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The Lady of the Lake

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My first memory is of water.

I was only a year or two old at the time, and my father had taken me down to the sea for a few hours in the afternoon. It was a hot day and I had been fussing, driving my mother mad with my wails, until he came home from the factories. After finding us both in such a state, my father let her stay home and relax while he took me down to the cool waters of the sea, letting me play in the shallows, laughing as I splashed happily. He says that he only looked away for a moment, calling to someone he knew, and exchanging a few words, before he looked back and I was gone.

Frantic he looked around, and then he looked into water, just past the little drop off from shallows to slightly deeper water.

And there I was, sitting under the surface, completely calm, just looking up at him. The sea was calm, only softly lapping, and I seemed perfectly content, just sitting there, my hair drifting about me with the currents, blue green eyes staring up at him.

My only recollection is of cool water surrounding me, and seeing my father's feet entering the water. It is the fractured memory of someone very young but I can distinctly remember how I felt. I had no fear, no fear at all, and even though I would have drowned, the memory does not engender fear in me. I had not even considered that there was any danger to me at all.

I have never felt unsafe in water, something that many of us who live here in District 4 share.

The sea and the great lake are our livelihoods, and we have grown up swimming for as long as we can remember. All of us know that the sea is a fickle mistress, that every day things can change and something which was perfect one day can be dangerous the next.

Maybe this is why we suffer less than others when it comes to the Hunger Games.

We are not like District 1 and 2; for all that our tributes are labelled 'Careers'. We do not have an academy to train our children to fight in that pageant of blood, we do not need to. We learn to throw harpoons, spear fish, to hunt, to use our tridents and our nets. We learn patience, the calm of mind needed to wait for the perfect moment to strike, we learn about survival, about how fortunes can change in a heartbeat.

We learn that the best way to get out of a riptide is to go with the current.

Apparently because we win some of the time, rather than never, we are considered among the Careers of the Hunger Games.

When really, all we've trained for is survival.

It is Reaping Day, and the entire District seems to have gone still.

The fishing boats have not left the harbour; the trawlers along the seashore and in the shallows of the lake are not out with their nets catching the creatures close to shore. Even the factories are still and quiet.

Even the sea waits on Reaping Day.

With a sigh I move away from the window, high up in the building of the Hall of Justice and close the book in my hands. Slipping off the window seat I pad lightly down the stacks of books, my feet barely making a sound on the thick dark blue carpet, until I reach the shelf I am looking for.

Technically I do not have to be in here today, no one really works on Reaping Day and certainly no one is going to be requiring anything from the book and information archives. Few people come in here as it is; the mayor of course, and the other government officials, some peacekeepers and overseers who are curious about information about certain technologies or fish. Of course teachers come in here too, asking about texts about the history of Panem and the world that had come before. Mythology, stories from a time that I can barely imagine.

Stories that, by now, I can recite almost by heart.

My job is unusual, most young people work on the docks, or in the factories outside of schooling hours. We are a district that enjoys sunshine and the salt air on our skin. We swim almost like fishes ourselves, and being inside often feels like we're being stifled. The same is true for me to an extent, I like nothing better than racing along the beaches, and sliding through the cool waves, but there is something about the peacefulness of the archive rooms that draws me in.

I could not get work on the docks, or the boats, but they found me this, a place to call my own, something to do, a purpose. And I am grateful for that.

No one should feel useless.

Today I need the peace the books give me, the sense of belonging and comfort that I can only get by running my fingertips along the spines of the tomes that fill the shelves. The sense of small accomplishment as I slide the book I had been looking at back into the gap that was left for it.

Back where it belongs.

I glance up at the clock on the wall and my stomach jumps, nervously. My day dreaming has accomplished something at least; it is later than I thought. So I scoop up my jacket from the chair by the door and hurry out, locking the oak doors behind me and slipping the key into the cabinet nearby.

I have to hurry if I want to be ready in time.

So I race out the doors, past old Beckett who hollers at me about running and then wishes me luck, and out past Lusane who just watches me go silently.

I run all the way home, enjoying the feeling of my body working, the wind rustling through my hair, the sharp tang of the salty sea air on my lips and tongue. I run past timber houses, painted with the soft pastels of the seashore, past small garden plots, my feet sinking into the sandy road. No one tries to brush the sand off the roads any longer, it's impossible, a part of our District.

The streets are empty, families are getting ready for the Reaping and I am running late, for all that I am enjoying the freedom that running brings.

All too soon I am home and tumbling through the front door.

"You're late," Mother is in the kitchen as I barrel through, "Why are you always late Schulyer?" She follows me up the stairs, and even though her voice is scolding, her hands are gentle as she helps me shed my loose dress and pull on the good one on the bed.

"I don't mean to be," I reply, wriggling to get the dress to sit right, "Truly I don't, it always just kind of…happens?"

"You'd lose your head if it wasn't screwed on," she replies tartly and without asking her hand reaches out and snags the comb from beside my bed. Gently she runs it through my long dark blonde hair, teasing out the tangles from the curls, tossed about by the breeze.

It's tradition by this point, her combing out my long hair, something we have just between us on Reaping Day. This is the sixth year she has done it, and after this there will only be one more before I am too old for my name to be entered. So far the odds have been in my favour; my name is only entered in the 6 times that my age demands and chances are I won't be chosen.

There is always a chance though and both of us are trying to forget it.

We sit in silence, both of us comforted by the soft familiarity of it, the gentle tug, tug, tug of the comb through my hair, and the warmth of her hand brushing behind it, smoothing it down my back.

Slowly she twists the sides of my hair, from my temples back and secures it all at the nape of my neck to make a long elegant ponytail down my back. Then slowly her hands drop.

"You're ready." She says softly into the silence.

We don't say anything else; everything has been said between us for years now. We're not a family who hides how we feel about one another, or keeps secrets. We are all intensely a part of each others lives, and we say we love each other often. There is nothing more that needs to be said; to speak now would only hurt us both, so we head back downstairs where my father folds me in his arms, stroking my head.

"Time to go." His voice is gravelly.

Together we head back the way I just ran, joining other families like ours, walking slowly and largely silently through the sunshine.

I separate from my parents at the massive courtyard in the centre of the town, walking over to the table for registration of the seventeen year old girls, as they walk to join the adults who ring the courtyard. It doesn't look like the scene of so much pain and fear, there is grass, flowers and we can see the sea, watching everything we do.

Reaping Days came around every year, but the sea was always there…timeless.

"Hello, hello, hello!" a twittering voice booms out suddenly across the crowd, and I tear my gaze away from the sea to see Flora Lullabelle, our District's escort, teetering on the stage before the Hall of Justice. As always she is dressed in a manner that befits The Capitol, bright neon colours, wigs and extreme amounts of makeup and cosmetic enhancements.

This year she is kitted out in a bright pink ensemble that almost makes my eyes hurt, with a flamboyantly bouffant wig of an almost royal purple. She looks ridiculous, especially around the muted blues, greens and sandy colours of our District.

I tune out as the traditional ceremony begins, speeches, propaganda from the Capitol, until finally Flora gushes, "Let's begin shall we? First our lady Tribute."

My entire side of the large sandy courtyard seems to hold its breath as she makes much ceremony of swirling the pieces of paper around in the bowl. She is playing to the television audiences, heightening the anticipation before plucking out a small slip of white paper with two words printed upon it.

"Schuyler Cavendish!"

It's my name.

I'm going to die.

For a moment the world seems to narrow around me, blood pounding in my ears and my eyesight, always so temperamental, blurs. All I can see is the blurred bright pink shape of the woman who just called my name. Who just reaped me for the Hunger Games.

I'm going to die.

Slowly I move forward, and with each step the mist clears a little from my eyes. I don't know how I look, and right at this moment I cannot bring myself to care, because inside my heart is flailing with panic and my stomach is trying to strangle itself.

I'm going to die.

I do not reach the stage before I crumple, a Peacekeeper holding me up slightly as I retch.

I'm going to die.

I throw up right there, in front of Panem, out of sheer terror.

And when I get up onto the stage, for once I am grateful that I can barely see. So I don't have to see the scorn or the pity on everyone's faces.

Of course there are no volunteers for me.

I stand there in shock, numb, stomach cramping shock, as Flora walks over to the other bowl, whisking out another name.

"Darrien Macmarra!"

The eighteen year old boy walks up onto the stage, lip wobbling, but looking determined and focused. Compared to me, who is trembling like a leaf, he looks calm and collected. I probably look like a wreck, despite my mother's tender care a mere half hour ago.

Everything seems distant around me; I don't hear the words being spoken before I'm being nudged to shake Darrien's hand. His blue eyes are on me, and his hand slowly lifts, as does my own.

We shake hands and then Flora hurries us into the Hall, and the doors swing shut behind us, with a final sort of boom.

As the train races away from District 4, away from the sweet smell of the sea and the only world I have ever known, my thumb rubs against the old metal coin my father gave me.

The farewells had been hard, my parents trying not to cry and succeeding for a while, until I started to weep. Then we cried together, before the Peacekeeper told them their time was up. Mother left me with a kiss, and a reminder to not run so late, and my father gave me this coin, looped on a leather string.

I find the soft rubbing of my fingers against the rough relief on the coin…soothing.

Darrien sits nearby, restless and fidgety, but I don't look at him. I just keep looking out of the window, rubbing the coin again and again. I need this, I tell myself, as I rub over and over again, as long as I think on the coin, I am not thinking about the fact that I am on this ridiculously luxurious train bound for the Capitol.

I don't know how long, or how many rubs I give the coin before my concentration is shattered by the door to the carriage swinging open and in strolls our mentor with a charming smile.

Finnick Odair.

I know about him, everyone in District 4 knows about him, he is our most famous Victor ever. He won the Games wielding a gifted trident, and a net he'd crafted himself, a trident that had been able to afford because he is gorgeous. I was just a small girl when I watched his Games, they are the first ones I remember, and I'd been so glad that he'd won, the boy from my home.

Bronze hair, green eyes, dazzling smile, it was hard not to find him attractive now that I was grown up, and so I glance awkwardly away. I have no experience with this sort of man, the charming, handsome variety. Such men, and such boys for that matter, do not usually go for the quiet girl in the corner, poring over a book. Most of the males I deal with are elderly, and while charming, are far from attractive.

I know, in theory, that I should just ignore his beauty and treat him as anyone else. But he is a stranger to me, a handsome stranger, and so the floor draws my eyes fixedly to it.

"There you are!" he says with a smile in his voice, walking over to us. I can hear him shaking Darrien's hand, checking his name easily as Darrien stumbles over his words and then his polished shoes stop in front of me, and his hand gently takes mine in his, lifting it up.

My eyes are helpless but to follow as he kisses the back of my hand, a small charming smile on his lips.

"Schuyler, wasn't it?"

I nod mutely, completely thrown.

"Well Schuyler, I'm Finnick." And he lets go of my hand, sitting down opposite us, with a casual grace I envied him for, "And I am your Mentor for these games."

"So…" Darrien glances at me, "How do we start?"

"Well first," Finnick smiles, "We need to attract you Sponsors, before you even enter the Arena you need sponsors. We need to make you as appealing as possible, which means playing to their expectations. Sponsors like good investments, the brutal Tributes, the attractive ones, the ones that capture their attention…these are the Tributes that will get the outside aid."

"So…what should we do?" Darrien looks nervous, glancing at me again.

"I need to know your skills," Finnick leans forward, "What do you do in 4, Darrien?"

"I work in the factories?" Darrien rubs his hair, "I uh, gut and clean fish."

"So some blade skills, just act confident, like you've got an ace in your pocket," Finnick nods, and then turns to me.

My heart sinks, I have nothing. No skills, nothing violent anyway. I can remember and replicate heard tunes, I can tell stories, I can read and file and I can organise books. None of that could kill another Tribute, I don't want to think about killing another human being.

My stomach churns uneasily again and I shake my head silently.

"Come now, you must have some skills. Where do you work?" he's being kind, those green eyes on my face, giving me his full attention.

I look at him helplessly before whispering.

"The archives?"

"We have archives?" Finnick looks surprised, "Why did no one tell me we had archives?"

"They're small…" I say it quietly.

"Archives…they're full of…" and his voice trails off.


"So…any weapons skills?" he asks hopefully and I shake my head.

"Just the basic spear and trident fishing." And I am crap at those, something he seems to realise by looking at my face.

"Well…we'll find something. There is always something." He reassures me quickly, "Darrien just try and look confident okay? Like you aren't someone to be discounted."

He looks at me again and my eyes seek out the floor once more.

If it was ever in any doubt…I don't think I'm going to survive this.

That night we watch the Reapings replayed on the television in a compartment nearby.

I have washed myself and shed my dress for something from the Capitol, a light dress that I tug a dressing robe over for decency. Along with Darrien, Flora and Finnick I curl up on the couch to watch the Reapings.

First is District 1, with a willowy blonde girl with green eyes. Beautiful, and confident, walking up onto the stage with her lovely flaxen head held high.

The boy is quieter, less obvious but he's still confident, smiling at the crowd and giving them a jaunty wave.

How can he be so…calm? I wonder, tucking my knees up to my chest. And she is just as calm. They look ready, and like they had been expecting to be called to this.

Glimmer and Marvel, they are full of confidence, and belief they can win.

Next is District 2 and my heart seems to stutter.

The girl, Clove, is intense, like a little dark cloud of energy. She's alight with it, this eager fervency. She moves with intent, and she scares me, even through a television she scares me.

But nowhere near as much as her partner.

The boy whose name is actually called is sixteen, but he doesn't even have to move a pace before another boy almost seems to bound forward.

"I volunteer!"

He's so eager, so sure of himself. And with good reason. He's huge, tall and strong, muscled, with a handsome face and fair hair. He's confident, striding up to the stage like it is his birthright, and states his name.


His eyes look into the camera for a moment, and it's like being doused in icy water. Those blue eyes are cold, determined, and pitiless and I feel my heartrate pick up.

This is a Career, trained to kill. Lethal.

I have no hope.

Especially when my own Reaping comes on and I see my pathetic performance, throwing up, trembling.

I am a joke, and my cheeks burn with shame.

No one else throws up, a few cry, but most are stoic as they take to the stage, glassy eyed. In shock.

The only exception is in District 12 where a girl lunges forward to volunteer for her sister, and she just looks like she's ready to take the world on. She stares down the cameras and keeps her head high, and I feel a pang of longing in my chest.

Why couldn't I be brave like that?

Lying in my cabin afterwards, tucked into a bed that is silky and softer than anything I could have imagined, I let the tears come.

I cry because I have no hope of going home, of seeing my mother again, my father. I've seen them for the last time, and while they'll see me, on the screens for the Hunger Games, they will also have to watch me die.

I cry because I wish I was home, and I can imagine our little kitchen right now so clearly. If I hadn't been Reaped my mother would have cooked a fish tonight, brought in by my father. There would have been laughter and the special bottle of wine my mother keeps safe. She buys it every year the day after Reaping Day, and saves it until I'm safe for another year.

I cry because that bottle won't be drunk this year.

I cry because I'm frightened. I don't want to die, the idea terrifies me, sinking into nothingness, life just snuffed out, nothing after that. It's not fair…I've read so much about living…I want to at least try it.

I cry because I'm ashamed. I'm the coward of the 74th Hunger Games. The girl who puked on her way up onto the stage. The girl who was so weak she couldn't even make it to the Capitol without letting everyone know she was easy prey.

I cry because I'm never going to swim in the sea again, and I wish with all my heart I could hear the ocean now.

Because then, I might not feel so horribly doomed…and alone.

Chapter Text

I wake up, the breath shuddering in my lungs, feeling disoriented for a brief moment.

The black ceiling above my head, reflecting my pale face back down at me, etched with silver, is not the white wood that I have woken up to every day of my life. The air is different too, heavier, without the tang of salt that permeates the air so much back home. Memory returns as I sit up, brushing my hair out of my face. The Reaping, my parent's farewell….watching the replay, all of it returns to me.

I wish it had not.

Its then I realise there is a steady and insistent knocking on my door, a rhythmic tapping of knuckles on dark wood.

I scramble out of bed, and yank it open to reveal Finnick, hand raised slightly to keep knocking. A bright smile blooms across his impossibly handsome face and his eyes slowly trail down my nightdress.

"Blue is definitely your colour."

I glare at him and shut the door once more, tugging the plush black robe hanging nearby on and belting it up securely before yanking the door open once more. He's still there, a grin on his face.

"Did you need something?" I ask him, tucking my hair back behind my ears self-consciously.

"I'm here to work out strategy with you." And he brushes past me into my small sleeping cabin, to drape himself casually into the single armchair in the room. Slowly I shut the door and walk back in, sitting on the bed cross legged, tucking my feet under my robe, "We have to find a way to help you win this thing."

"I...don't think I can win this thing." I say softly, hand lifting to tuck my hair back again, "I don't have any skills that would help me in the Arena…I struggle watching fish being caught and flop around in the bottom of the boats."

It's an understatement, I'd cried a little and the captain of the boat looked at me like I was crazy. He told my teachers and they decided life on the boats was not for me.

"Let's keep that on the down low." Finnick suggests with a shake of his head, "Rule number one, no advertising weaknesses that can be exploited by your opponents…." He looks at me shrewdly, "Anything else I should know about before devising a plan?"

"I…" my face flushes darkly and I look down at my hands, "I…can't see properly."


"I need more information than that." Finnick's voice is serious now, "How much can you see?"

"Close up I can see perfectly." I don't look up, "The further away things get…the blurrier they are…and…"

"And?" he prompts when I stop, "There's more?"

"It gets worse depending on my state of being…" I wince, because put like that it sounds lame, "I mean…the more tired I am, the more frightened, angry… the more my eyes shake and the less I see…."

Silence again.

"That…is a challenge." Finnick's voice sounds forcedly optimistic, "So, you have basic combat skills…."

"….at best."

"…you have no killer instinct…"

"…to put it mildly." My lips quirk up despite themselves, he's not being accusing, his voice is merely pondering the information I've given to him.

"…and you struggle to see, something that will get worse in the Arena…any good news?"

"I can swim well."

Finnick nods, "Good, water is usually District 4's domain in the Arena. You'll need to stay near that if there is some in yours, might give you an advantage." He considers me, and tilts his head to the side, I squirm under his scrutiny and it makes him smile.

"What?" I ask him, shoulders hunching slightly.

"What we need is a hook." Finnick says thoughtfully, standing from his chair and walking over to me. I look up as he tilts my chin up, tilting my head left and right, examining me with an impersonal and interested stare, "Something to lure the Capitol audiences in to your cause…they can make a Victor out of anyone…"

"A hook?" I say softly, "Like what?"

"To the Capitol…this is a television show…" his blue green eyes meet mine, "There are those who bet to get money back, an investment, but more of them bet with their hearts, sponsors too. They sponsor Tributes that touch them…They want a show, a story, something that captures their attention."

A story…

"A story…" I say softly, and his eyes light up.

"They love a good pageant." He touches my hair again, and I can see his mind working, "We make you the embodiment of a story, a legend. That's how we'll present you, and as long as you do your part in staying alive in the Arena, I'll get you sponsors to help."

"What about Darrien?" I ask, biting my lip slightly.

"Mags is with him now," the other mentor, she wasn't there yesterday, "She finds Reaping's tiring…" his smile was fond for a moment, "His persona was a little easier…so she's handling that. Does he know about you? Your…" and he waves a hand at his eyes.

"No…" I shake my head, "No it wasn't something we told many people. When it was obvious I would be a hindrance on any ship or fishing group they found me the position in the archives. Knowing why wasn't important."

"Good," Finnick nods, "I doubt he would use it against you, normally you can trust your district partner longer than most of the other Tributes…but eventually he'll be the enemy and I don't want him using that against you."

"He has more chance of winning than I do." I say softly, "Wouldn't it be wiser to concentrate your efforts on keeping him alive..?"

"Some Districts may do that." Finnick's hand touches my cheek reassuringly, "We don't. We want both of you to have as much chance as you can. No favourites. We're going to focus on both of you."

He straightens and moves towards the door, "Breakfast will be in about half an hour, and then we'll be getting ready to arrive in the Capitol."

"Finnick?" I say, and he pauses in the doorway, looking back at me with those incredible eyes, "Thank you."

He looks surprised and then smiles gently.

"Thank me when you win."

And the door shuts silently behind him.

No one is more surprised than me when I actually find myself enjoying the short walk from the train to the car that will take us to the training centre.

It's not the walk itself that is surprising, it's the fact that it's a gauntlet of Capitol citizenry standing like a riot of colours, crowding the platform as we arrive, as well as the photographers pressing forward, hoping for a photo of the District 4 Tributes.

Darrien withdraws into himself, scowling at the people who scream his name, waving at him franticly. He walks with Mags, the eighty year old woman who is the other half of our mentoring team, and she tries to get him to relax by waving at the crowds.

Flora embraces the frantic scene with her usual flamboyancy, waving frantically and calling out, "District 4 has arrived!" with far too much enthusiasm.

Finnick of course gets a loud scream of delight from the ladies, which he plays up, posing and winking and giving that charming little grin of his. He catches kisses and blows them back, causing some women and men to faint with joy. He's beloved by the Capitol, the perfect Victor and he uses that charm to help us now, shaking Darrien's hand and escorting me out of the train with a kiss to the hand.

"Be sweet but serene," his whispered instructions to me, delivered just before the doors opened, carry me through the crowd. Somehow I don't find it hard to smile at the people, to stop for photographs, to sign things. I give them my time, letting them know that I appreciate their support, and their cries of my name get louder and louder as I walk to the car.

Finally the door shuts and the sound dulls before fading completely as we pull away from the station.

"That is just your first taste of Capitol hospitality." Finnick informs a dazed Darrien and me with a wicked smirk, "Wait until the Tribute parade tonight."

Mags smacks his arm lightly, "Wicked boy," she says softly, dark eyes twinkling, "Stop tormenting the dears."

"Are we going to be dressed like fish?" Darrien's face scrunches up and I can feel my own following, "District 4 is always bloody fish."

"We're letting our stylists stretch their legs this year," Finnick grins slightly, winking at me, "We think you'll approve."

"You'll look dashing Darrien," Mags, pats his knee lightly, "I sent a message to Arterius this morning."

"And I spoke to Felvia." Finnick's sea green eyes meet mine and he winks again, "You'll look ravishing."

I blush and look down, but I hear Mags smacking his arm again and Finnick's wounded, "Ow, Mags!"

It's been hours.

Hours of plucking, tweezing, rubbing, waxing, moisturising and primping. Every inch of my body has been rid of hair, except for the top of my head, I am clean and my skin seems to shine from all the products they've rubbed into it.

My preparation team are a trio of flamboyant Capitol citizens, with dazzling green wigs and butterfly wing eyelashes. They twitter about Finnick and fashion and Finnick and shoes and Finnick and water and….Finnick."

"I think I'd just die if he looked at me," Demia gushes, her pale yellow skin almost quivering at the thought, "Just die!"

Help me, I think, anyone please!

Finally they pronounce me perfect and leave me for Felvia, who arrives short moments later, a short woman with bright red hair and a pair of sharp brown eyes. She carries a garment bag and looks rather harried.

"Your mentor does know that we do, do months of preparation work before Reaping day doesn't he?" she barks at me, making me jump, "Even if we don't know your sizes until them we have all the materials ready to piece it together. It's no simple thing to just change it on a whim."

I look at her stricken.

"Oh don't you fret love," she bustles over and nods approvingly at what my team has done with my hair and makeup, "It's not your fault, and you can be sure I'll be giving that overgrown feckless boy mentor of yours a good piece of my mind myself."

"He wants to give me a story," I say quietly, shifting slightly, "I don't exactly have much else going for me…"

"Nonsense," Felvia huffs, fixing something in my hair until it's perfect, "You're quite lovely you know, fresh…innocent. They'll eat that up…"

"Even as a fish?" I dare to ask.

She gives me a look, "You would have been a lovely fish."

"I'm sure," I say meekly, and smile when she grins.

She helps me into my dress, which has a cover over it to protect it, so even I cannot see it and then she fusses over me, fixing things here and there, and tuts quietly to herself.

Finally she steps back, nodding her satisfaction, "You'll be beautiful," she reassures me and slips the covering off before turning me to face the mirror.

The girl in the mirror isn't me, she can't be me.

She is dressed in a gown that seems to ripple around her like water, and with every slight movement she makes it flows around her body. It's made of a myriad of shades of blue, trailing out behind her like a river. The material is almost sheer, giving it a natural look, like at the right angle or in the right light you will be able to see right through it to the body underneath.

But it's the face that shocks me the most, and makes me realise that it is in fact me. Those are my green eyes, framed by dark eyeliner and a swathe of blues that make me look like some kind of unearthly creature. It's my eyes that dominate my whole face, large, framed by dark lashes, intent eyes.

"Who am I meant to be?" I ask, hand lifting to touch the creatures face.

Felvia smiles, seemingly pleased by my obviously stunned reaction to her creation.

"You're the Lady of the Lake."

Finnick's reaction is a whistle, which makes me blush.

I know he did it deliberately to tease me, but still, my cheeks pink slightly and I look away and down.

"Ah ah…" his fingers tilt my chin up, "The Lady of the Lake fears no man."

"She wouldn't blush if you didn't torment the poor girl." Mags rolls her eyes at him and steps forward to cup my cheek lightly, looking at me in a motherly way, "You look beautiful."

"Thank you Mags," I say softly as Darrien comes over to join us, looking dashing in watery armour.

We fuss over him for a little while, Finnick turning his teasing onto the scowling boy and drawing him out of his unhappy state as Tributes begin to join us. Finally its time for us to step up into our chariot and Felvia and Arterius fuss around us, draping material just so.

"It will stream out behind you," She tells me, settling it carefully, "As will your hair."

"Look serene but smile," Finnick's hand pats mine clutching the rail, "Felvia, do you have the…"

"Don't you be telling me how to do my job Mr Odair." Felvia scolds him, pushing him out of the way and attaching a band to my wrist, which has a long ripple of blue material behind it, rather like my dress. "Hold the end of that, and raise your arm at the moment you think it best, and the crowd will go nuts for you."

"Felvia…" I look down at her, feeling oddly terrified as the District 1 chariot moves off, taking the two beautiful Tributes with it, clad in clothes made of gemstones.

"You can do it." Finnick is the one to answer me, winking, "Remember the train station? You're a natural at this. Just enjoy yourself."

District 2 moves off and I glance at Darrien who looks ill, "We can do this," I reassure him, "Pretend that they're all here to admire you."

He glances at me and nods slightly, as the District 3 chariot leaves, taking it's two tributes, dressed like electronic beings away, "I'm going to pretend that they're here to admire you…and that I'm just escorting you." He corrects with a small smile, "I hate people staring at me."

Our group leave, disappearing off into the crowd and our chariot begins to move, the horses picking up their pace to a steady canter, causing our clothes to stream out behind us, just like Felvia and Arterius promised.

We emerge into the promenade and I gasp at the hundreds of thousands of people crowding the way, all waving and screaming. The levels rise as we emerge and suddenly there are screams of our names. They are all a blur to me, splotches of bright colour amongst the neutrals but I know they are the citizenry of the Capitol. Maybe that is why this is easier for me...I can't see them.

"Darrien! Darrien!" they chant, and Darrien looks at me, shocked.

"Wave…" I tell him, smiling at him and the crowd goes wild.

"Schuyler! Schuyler! Darrien! Darrien!"

They are screaming for us, and I smile at them, feeling like I'm floating. I wait until their screams reach fever pitch and then I raise my arm.

I didn't think it was possible for it to crescendo even more but they are shrieking now, flowers raining down on us as we race through the Capitol until we reach the Tribute tower, where our chariot pulls up beside the other three to wait for the President's speech.

The crowds are still roaring for us, until there is a sudden hush.

Then the screaming begins, a wild stampede of noise and approval and all of the Tributes look up at the screens nearby to see District 12 hurtling down the way, looking like they are on fire. Flames lick out behind them, and they are holding hands, defiant and beautiful.

"Wow," Darrien whispers to me.

"That's incredible," I breathe, "They're the coal on fire…"

"The Gamemakers are going to love this," he murmurs back, a wry smile curling up his lips, "Fire and Water."

We share a look, and I feel my heart constrict. There is a bond here, we're the Tributes of District 4 and this has brought us close together, but in a few days we'll be fighting for our lives and one of us will die.

His hand finds mine briefly and squeezes before letting go.

He won't kill me, and I won't kill him. We don't have to say it, both of us know it.

President Snow's traditional welcome goes over my head because suddenly I feel a prickle between my bare shoulderblades, the prickle of knowing someone is watching you.

Slowly I look around, and my eyes meet the cold blue gaze of the male District 2 Tribute. His lips are curled up in a faint smirk, and when our eyes meet, it widens even more, before his eyebrows rise slightly.

It's a challenge, but I'm not the kind of girl who can respond to that, so I look back around, to the front, cheeks burning, and step closer to Darrien.

"What?" he asks in an undertone.

"2 is staring."

He looks around and frowns, obviously giving tall blond male a warning look and I can't help but feel grateful to him.

"He's looking at you like you're a meal." Darrien growls, "Arrogant prick. We're from 4, we're traditionally part of that Career pack, like him."

The chariots move off towards the Training Centre and I shake my head at him, "They did see me throw up in terror Darrien."

"Still…" he frowns, "Reckon Finnick's got a strategy up his sleeve?"

"I think mine is to beat feet out of there." I say softly as the chariot pulls up, He gets out and helps me down, "Thank you. But you would probably be welcome with the Careers you know. You can handle yourself."

"That was perfect." Mags voice reaches us, interrupting the talk as she pulls Darrien and then me into a warm embrace. She smells like the sea, and I want to cling to her, to keep that safe smell in my nostrils.

"If it hadn't been for that damn District 12 it would have been, " Felvia scowls, even as she pats my cheek gently, "How is anything supposed to compete with setting your Tributes on fire?"

"We don't do well with fire," Finnick informs her dryly, walking up and giving me a kiss on the cheek which makes me blush and bat him off. He then gives Darrien one, ignoring the boy's irate 'Gerroff!', "You two will be remembered, which is what we wanted. The Lady of the Lake and the Water Warrior. Sponsors will lap it up."

"We have a problem though," Darrien informs him, rubbing his cheek, "The District 2 boy gave Schuyler a very unpleasant look."

I glance towards District 2 and see the boy is watching the District 12 pair.

"Was it desire?" Finnick wiggles his eyebrows as I look back, "I know mine would have been- ow, dammit all Mags!" he rubs his arms as the old woman gives him a stern look.

"No," Darrien glances towards 2 as well, "He was looking at her like…" he hesitates and looks at me.

"Like I was a meal." I use Darrien's way of describing it, "I think a Career alliance is out."

Finnick's face goes solemn and he glances at Darrien and then back at me.

"I think Darrien should still join them." I say quietly, "He should distance himself from me."

"Schuyler!" Darrien looks shocked, "I'm not going to just join the people who are going to hunt you down…"

"She's right." Finnick's voice is strangely serious, "But let's talk about this upstairs, away from prying eyes."

We move towards the elevator and I glance back towards 2 once more.

He's watching me again, but this time there's a faint smile curling his lips up. He's watching the outline of my body through the sheer gown, and I twitch it irritably to cover myself up further. His eyes flick up to mine and he smirks, before the elevator doors close, shutting him off.

"That was desire…" Finnick's voice breathes in my ear, followed by a loud yelp, "MAGS!"

Chapter Text

Morning dawns and finds Darrien and I sitting at the dining table of our District apartment, picking at our food.

I'm exhausted, wrung out from a night of tossing and turning in my extraordinarily comfortable Capitol bed and worn out from fragmented dreams of the District 2 boy hunting me through an empty District 4. I'd bolted for the sea, sure that if I could get to that water I would be safe, but I never made it, and woke up screaming.

I decide not to go back to sleep after that and so slip out of my messed up bed and pad over to the bathroom off the room. The shower is hot and washes away the cold sweat that was sticking to my skin after the dream. The clamminess flows away, and I just lean against the smooth tiles, letting the water rush against me.

Soon enough however I have to get out and after being dried by the Capitol contraption, I head back out into the bedroom to pull some loose clothes from the cupboard.

Darrien is already at the breakfast table when I get there, and he shoots me a weak grin.

"Good night?" I ask him, seeing the bags under his eyes.

"The best." He replies dryly as I sit down opposite him, "I see you had a fun one too."

I give him a look and can't help but smile back when he grins at me.

We eat in pleasant silence until it's broken by Finnick's charming drawl.

"There the two of you are!" He joins us, sitting at the head of the table beside us both. "Good, I want to discuss training, and tactics."

At once he has both of our attentions and I pause in my pushing of my food around my plate.

"So, what's the plan?" Darrien asks, glancing at me and then back at Finnick.

"You both need to act like you have things up your sleeves," Finnick pops a grape into his mouth, "And you need to act like you're part of the Career pack Darrien."

"What about Schuyler?" Darrien frowns, his face darkening slightly, "You expect me to just…"

"I expect you to do what you have to, to ensure you both survive for as long as possible." Finnick's voice is firm, "You will be a Career and Schuyler here will be doing her own thing."

"You want me to pretend I'll hunt her down?" Darrien snarls it, and I can see his fork bending slightly in his grip.

"Sitting right here," I murmur, feeling my stomach clench.

"Not at all." Finnick shakes his head, "Even Careers know about loyalties to District partners. You can be protective of her, just tell them she's off the cards until later. By then the odds should be much more in your favour to work together."

"What should I do?" I ask him softly, and those sea green eyes meet mine.

"Focus on the survival stations. Pick up everything you can, anything that will keep you alive as you stay away from the other Tributes."

"Shouldn't she be able to defend herself?" Darrien still sounds a little cross, but he's been mollified now he knows he doesn't have to hunt me down.

"I can defend myself." I reassure him, "I did learn the same things you did in school Darrien, spears and tridents and the like." I didn't add that I had been the absolute worst at all of these skills in my class, but Finnick's smile is a knowing one.

"Defending herself won't be worth anything if she dies from exposure or eating something poisonous." Finnick tells Darrien, "You'll have the Career supplies at the Cornucopia, but she'll have to rely on her hunting skills and wits."

"I'm doomed." I say dryly but see Darrien's concerned frown. "You just worry about your own Game Darrien." I say gently, "Those Careers will be cut-throat…and you won't have someone there to watch your back, they will. Two from 1 and two from 2."

"And 1 from 4, and if I can help you I will." He says to me firmly, giving me a stern look.

"And I you." I smile slightly.

"Good, now that's settled." Finnick claps his hands together, "Please pass the cheese…"

We head down to the training gym, neither of us speaking.

Felvia has put me in a training uniform that has a blue shirt and flexible pants and Arterius has dressed Darrien similarly but not so much that we look like a united front. We are obviously the District 4's but with our shirts of a different blue we look like we're forging our own paths.

"Finnick's had a word to them." Darrien had muttered in my ear as we entered the lift.

It was a fair point.

The doors slid open and we walk in, stepping away from one another, both of us keeping our heads raised, proud as we walked over to where the head trainer was gathering the Tributes. We step onto our allotted disks and wait, not looking at each other. I look at the ground, but I hear the District 2 girl greet Darrien.

"4." She nods, a small smirk curling up her cat like mouth, "Welcome."

"2." He replies, voice steady and bored.

My neck prickles and I glance up.

The male from 2 is eyeing me again, those cool blue eyes considering me. When our eyes meet, his lips curl up into a crooked smirk and he mimes throwing up.

My cheeks burn and I look down again.


I hear the girl from 1 laugh and then the last two tributes join us; the two from 12, dressed identically.

A team then, I think with surprise, meeting the girl's impassive grey eyes before looking at the blond boy beside her. He meets my gaze and smiles slightly and I quickly look away, confused. We're competitors in the Hunger Games, smiling at your opponents doesn't seem logical.

The head trainer, Atala, gives us all the run down and then dispatches us to do as we please.

The Careers head straight towards the Weapons stations, Darrien moving with them. He is playing it perfectly, not even questioning that he would be a part of their pack. The boy from 1 glances at the one from 2 but 2 just nods. He's the leader then…figures….and he's accepted Darrien.

Satisfied that my partner will be alright I head straight over to the fire starting station.

I spread my time between the survival stations and find there are things I can do quite well. I'm good with traps and snares, being patient and rather methodical in movement. The trainer is pleased, and gives me more complicated traps as the time passes. Eventually I have to move on, as others need to use the station, but it is with reluctance. I'd enjoyed myself there, felt like I had control of something.

I haven't felt that since the Reaping.

I'd been passable with the fire starting, despite the trainer making a few quips about fish and fire. I ignored those and started a good blaze with a variety of different materials.

Surprisingly I'd also been good with the edible plants station. Slow to identify, but accurate, which I figure is the important part. As long as you take your time and don't panic and you get it right, that's what counts.

Buoyed by this I am feeling quite content by the time lunchtime rolls around. As all the tributes filter out of the gym, along with the trainers, I glance towards the weapons stations.

Slowly I move over to the racks there and look at the assorted weapons. Swords, knives, throwing knives, spears, a bow and arrows…and many others of various shapes and hefts.

Carefully I pick up the spear and heft it.

"Can you even use that?" a voice purrs from nearby and I almost shriek in shock, dropping the weapon as I spin.

2 stands there, arms folded across his chest and a smirk curling up that handsome mouth again. He barks a laugh and strides forward.

"You really are useless aren't you; and they told me District 4 would be a challenge."

I scramble back as he picks up the spear, hefting it for a moment before sending it slicing through the air and through the dummies' heart. He turns to me as I stare at the skewered training aide and then suddenly I find myself pushed up against the wall of the station, his hand wrapped around my throat.

My eyes widen, but he doesn't strangle me, just holds me there to look at me with those intense blue eyes.

"Your boy says we can't touch you until late in the game." He murmurs at me, thumb tilting my chin up, as his large hand still cradles my throat warningly, "I wonder why that is."

"Haven't you heard of loyalty to your District partner?" I manage to get out, heart thundering in my chest from how he towers over me, and manages to overwhelm me so easily.

I was right to fear this man, but…there is something. He is not hurting me, just, restraining me. And my body is reacting to his proximity, the warmth of his skin as he stands close, his warm smell, and the way his breath feathers across my temple. It's sensory overload and for someone who responds well to physical contact, this is filling me with confusing signals.

It doesn't help that his voice is low, rumbly and rather attractive either. I've always been a sucker for striking eyes and pleasant voices. Although I've never done anything about any attractions I've felt before, other than to stay away.

A strategy that I should use here, my fogged up brain shrieks in warning.

His chuckle rumbles through me, and I shiver at the sound, "I'm loyal, because Clove is worthy of such loyalty. You are not."

"You don't know me." I breathe, my eyes finally meeting his, "I might surprise you."

Another chuckle, "That so?" his lips brush the top of my ear and I jerk slightly with surprise, breath hitching, "Twitchy little thing aren't you?"

"You are holding me by my neck." I point out quietly, "I think most people would be twitchy."

He smirks, "Most people don't throw up just because they are Reaped for the Hunger Games."

And there it was.

My eyes close slightly as he laughs mockingly, "Nothing to say?"

"I'm not ashamed." I whisper.

"What?" he murmurs, a note of surprise in his voice. My eyes open and meet his.

"I'm not ashamed. It means I'm not a heartless killer like you. It means I don't glorify murder…" and my voice cuts off as his hand tightens, cutting off my air.

"Well, well…" his voice is forcedly even, "Looks like you do have a spine after all little fish."

His hand loosens and I gasp in air, staring at him in shock.

"What do you want from me 2?" I ask softly, voice a little hoarse.


"What?" I blink in surprise.

"The name is Cato."

"I would rather call you 2."

"And I would rather Cato." His hand tightens very slightly.

"Why?" I breathe, "You're just a Career tribute. Why would your name have any meaning to me?"

His lips curl up again and he leans in, unbearably close.

"Because you're mine. Now say it 4."

My breath hitches at his confident words, and the claiming of them. He must mean his kill, I've heard the other Careers claiming kills, he must mean I'm to be his. I lick my lips and whisper,


"That's not-" he begins but I interrupt him.

"It's Schuyler, not 4."

"You think you get to dictate to me?" he chuckles in my ear, "Oh sweetheart you are very wrong."

"Then I have nothing to say…2."

He pulls back, and eyes me thoughtfully for a moment before shrugging and walking off, "Have it your way 4. I'm sure we'll talk again real soon."

I hear him leave the gym and I slide down the wall, letting the air out of my lungs in a great whoosh.

Oh my…

After a hurried lunch I head over to the camouflage station and find that I am not the only one to have this thought.

My eyes meet the boy from 12's surprised blue eyes, before he grins slightly.

"I think we can share, don't you?" he says eyeing me carefully, and the smile widens as I nod. He offers a hand, "Peeta Mellark, District 12."

"Schuyler Cavendish, District 4," I reply, shaking his hand.

We settle in to paint, and it soon becomes very obvious who is the better at this. Peeta's painted arm seems to vanish into which ever scene he chooses to slip it into. His eye is incredible, and the detail is flawless on each of his creations. He is quick and neat with his brush, and I find myself watching him, fascinated.

"How did you learn to do that?" I ask eventually, too intrigued to stay quiet "Yours are incredible, mine are…well I'll be lucky to pass as anything other than a weird coloured human."

"Oh.." he just grins slightly and shrugs a shoulder, "It's nothing…I used to decorate cakes back home. I guess the skill set translates. Besides, you're District 4…" he smiles at me dryly, "You won't need to camouflage yourself you'll be in with the Careers."

"Do I look like I'm in with them?" I say quietly, wincing slightly as I hear the girl from 1 laugh at something, "I'm not in with them."

"Why not? I thought District 4 usually is…"

"We are. Usually.." I glance over at Darrien who is throwing a spear with a fisherman's precision.

"Your partner is." He points out softly.

"My partner didn't throw up when he was Reaped." I look at him, and see something like understanding and sympathy in those blue eyes, "The Careers do not tolerate weakness. They value strength."

"I wanted to throw up." Peeta admits, painting a final line across his arm, "I think I was just too shocked to."

"Peeta." A voice speaks up from beside us and we both look up to see Peeta's district partner standing there, "I thought we could try some snares again."

"Katniss," Peeta's face lights up, "This is Schuyler."

I wave slightly and she nods, "District 4."

"That's right." I nod and she purses her lips before turning back to Peeta.

"Let's go."

"I'll see you round." He pats my shoulder briefly before heading to wash off his arm, Katniss following him.

I feel the familiar prickle across my skin and look around, my eyes meeting Cato's over at the sword station. He is frowning slightly, eyes moving between me and the boy and girl who just left. Then his eyes meet mine once more and he starts walking over.

Quickly I turn away, heart thundering in my chest. I hope like hell that he has stopped, has gone back to his training, but a moment later he's there, the warmth of him like a furnace behind me.

"That looks like shit." He informs me, and I glance up at him. He nods at my arm, "Is there anything you're good at 4?"

"None of your business 2." I say, standing and moving away. He grabs my arm and tugs me back to face him.

"It's just a question 4, why so hostile?" he smirks down at me.

"Yes well…" I give him a fake smile, "Strategy you know…don't tell the enemy things he doesn't need to know? Sorry…" I try to move away again and he yanks me back. We're closer now, and he towers over me.

"So you and 12 huh?" he flicks a gaze up and then back down at me, "What did they have to say for themselves."

"Peeta was just being friendly," I try to tug sharply away but his grip is like iron, "Let me go 2."

"Peeta, huh?" those blue eyes lock with mine, "And yet you won't call me Cato."

"I like him better." I retort, staring back at him, "He doesn't hold me by my neck."

"Where's the fun in that sweetheart?" and he leans in, overwhelming me with his bulk, and warm smell, "Say it."

"Cato." It's not my voice that says the name, but Darrien's, and he sounds angry. Next thing I know, he's there and his hand shoves Cato away from me, pushing me back, behind him, "What the fuck man? We had a deal. No one messes with her."

Cato's blue eyes stare into my own before he looks up at Darrien. My district partner is smaller than him, but he's tough, standing there solidly, firmly between him and me.

"Just getting to know Schuyler." His use of my name surprises me, as it does Darrien, "She's interesting."

"Find her less interesting." Darrien snaps back, "Let's get back to training."

Finally Cato nods, and heads off, with a final long look at me.

Darrien glares after him and then looks at me, worry replacing the anger on his face, "You alright?"

"I'm fine," I reply, "Go…go back to training Darrien…I'll be fine."

"Alright Schuyler…" he touches my cheek and then begins to walk off.

"Darrien…?" I call after him, on an impulse, and he turns back, "It's Sky…call me Sky."

He grins and nods, before walking back to the Careers, clapping the boy from 1 on the shoulder and ignoring Cato, who is watching him speculatively.

I shiver as his gaze meets mine once more.

Things just got a lot more complicated.

Chapter Text

Finnick, Mags and Darrien are talking.

This isn't exactly unusual, they are our mentors after all and they have plans for his survival as well, but what makes me pause outside the door, hand reaching for the handle, is the fact they are talking about me.

"I did what you suggested." Darrien's voice is deep, rough, "Glimmer, Marvel and Clove were fine with leaving her be, and Cato said he was...but."

"What happened?" Mags low voice is gentle, coaxing.

"He wants her dead." Darrien huffs a sigh, "He seems to think the fact that she's well...Sky...makes her an embarrassment to the Career alliance."

"But she's not even IN the pack." Finnick's voice is louder, and there is an edge to it, "Why is he even paying attention to her! She should just be another pretty Tribute to him."

"They're District 4. And she caught his eye in the parade," Mags murmurs, "They both did, but Darrien is what he expected."

"Sky threw up." Darrien's voice is agitated, "He must have written her off then."

"He finds her physically appealing though," Finnick's feet pace, to and fro, "I saw him after that parade, he was ogling. I know ogling and he was ogling."

"Cato is a Career tribute from District 2." Mags voice is soft, "His whole life is these Games. He's not going to let a pretty face distract him from his prize. Schuyler is lovely to be sure, but she's not going to stop a sword just by batting those eyelashes of hers."

"There has to be a way to salvage this." Finnick sounds determined, "We have to give him someone else to focus on."

"He's not going to be distracted by any pretty face Finnick." Mags' voice is scolding.

"Not that kind of distracted. You've made your point; he's not going to be led about by his cock." Darrien makes a soft noise of discomfort and Mags shushes him gently, "No we need to give him a threat, someone he'll focus all that deadly stuff on rather than Schuyler."

There is silence for a moment.

"12." Darrien's voice breaks into the silence and my eyes widen, "He already hates them for stealing his thunder at the parade. If they score higher than Sky..."

"He'll turn on them." Finnick muses, "It's as good as anything, but I want you to keep an eye on him Darrien. From what you've said, he sounds like someone who enjoys the power he has over people, and he already knows he can intimidate Schuyler."

"He won't do it around Darrien." Mags is once again the voice of reason, "The others have accepted him, he's one of them. Cato may enjoy teasing her, but it won't be worth risking his leadership place among the Careers for her."

"Still..." Finnick moves away from them, towards the door, "Keep an eye on it. I'm going to talk to her..."

I slip away from the door, and dash silently along the thickly carpeted floor ducking into my room just in time to hear the door down the hallway open. I lie on my bed and look up at the ceiling, heart pounding in my chest.

"I'm assuming you heard all that?"

Finnick's there, and shutting the door behind him, sea green eyes dancing slightly as he moves into the room, perching on the edge of the bed. Looking at him I know there's no point in lying so I sit up and nod.

"Most of it."

"Is Darrien right?" Finnick slides up the bed to lean against the headboard next to me, "Does he have it in for 12?"

"Yes..." my voice is soft, but there's a note of something in my voice, and of course Finnick picks right up on it.


"I don't want to throw them under the train just to save my own skin." I pull a face, "The guy...Peeta, he was really nice...I just..."

"You can't think like that." Finnick's voice is regretful, but firm, "I'm sorry Schuyler, but you can't. He may be the nicest guy in the world, but the Hunger Games change you...they'll change him."

"Me too..." I whisper, and he glances at me, eyes unhappy.

"I mentored a young woman like you once..." He said softly, "The Games changed her, but she couldn't handle it. You remind me so much of her...I just...don't want to see history repeat itself."

"Did she die?" I ask quietly.

"No." He shakes his head, voice heavy, "She a matter of speaking."

I realise who he's talking about, and my heart lurches slightly. Annie Cresta, one of District 4's most famous Victors, famous for how she had fallen apart after her games. She'd seen her District partner killed, and hadn't been able to recover. I knew many saw her as a joke, someone who had been lucky to win, but I had always found her story incredibly sad.

"I remind you of her?" I ask quietly and he nods, "I suppose that means there's a chance of me living I suppose..."

"I'm going to make sure of it." He gives me a loose hug about the shoulders, "Which brings me to...the Cato issue..."

I pull a face and he chuckles, "Now, Mags and Darrien think keeping you away from him is the best thing for it, and I agree. But I think we should take it one step further."

I give him a wary look and he grins that wicked little grin.

"What step further?" I ask.

"Cato is a young man." Finnick's voice is carefully casual, "A young man who is the top dog in his little pack. I've seen his kind before...and for all his focus is on the games right now...I believe he can be distracted."

"Mags' doesn't think he'll be deterred by a pretty face." I point out quietly.

"Not just a pretty face no." He smiles slightly, "His type like a challenge, they like dominating."

"Finnick..." I look down, uncomfortable, "I'm really not good at that kind of thing..."

"Do you have any experience?" he asks me, and I make a noise, "I'm not after specifics...please...generalities will do me just fine."

"No..." I shake my head, "None...I know the theory...I read books after all..."

"That is adorable." He pats my head and I glare at him.

"I don't have any experience." I tell him, my arms folding defensively.

"Relax," Finnick's smile is gentle, "I'm not asking you to do anything sexual with him. But we on his hormones a little."

"Finnick..." I look at him helplessly, "I'm not sexy...not like that girl from 1..."

"She's obvious." Finnick dismisses her, "You've got mystery, which we will lure him with. The Capitol will eat it up too...if we can do it."

"He doesn't like weak women." I insist, shaking my head, "You should have heard him today; I thought he was going to choke me..."

"Choke you...?" Finnick frowns, "Darrien said he was holding your arm."

"Earlier..." I say regretfully, "We had a run in earlier."

I tell him everything, and he questions me about every detail of the confrontation. Finally he sits there, mouth pursed slightly, considering. Finally he speaks.

"This might actually be easier than I expected."

"Are you nuts?" I ask him exasperatedly, "He tried to strangle me!"

"You surprised him." His mind is working, I can practically see it, "He only began to tighten his hand when you insulted him, took the moral high ground."


"He wants to control you." Finnick's eyes are bright, "It's not just about the killing with him, it's about control, about being in charge. You messed up his Career plans, so he threatens you to put you in your place. But you moralise at him...and he..." he looks at me, and a grin curls up his lips, "He expected you to crumble. He wanted to make you crumble. That's why he had another go later. He wants everyone in a nice little predictable box...and you're not playing by his rules. This...this I can work with."

"Finnick...what if I can't..."

"You don't have to flirt with him." Finnick kisses my cheek, "You're not Glimmer, all obvious sex appeal. We want you to just be yourself, and let me take care of your allure. It's my special talent."

He slips off the bed and I follow him, unsure, "Finnick..."

The man turns back to facing me, a hand cupping my cheek, sea green eyes meeting mine.

"Do you trust me Schuyler?"

"Yes." I whisper, because I do. Finnick knows what he's doing, and I have to believe he won't lead me wrong. He smiles, kisses my forehead and opens the door, "Finnick?" he turns back, a question on his face. Slowly I give him a small smile of my own, "It's Sky. You and Mags should call me Sky."

He gives me that slow, genuine smile that we see so rarely and nods.

"I'll see you at dinner...Sky." and he leaves, shutting the door behind him.

I'm going to kill Finnick.

This morning my training gear was laid out for me, as it had been yesterday, but unlike yesterday when it had been comfortable and flexible, today the pants are just that little bit tighter, hugging my bum and thighs.

I know it's his fault, his and Felvia's.

"'Not obvious', he said." I mutter jabbing the trident located at the fishing station down, missing the fish, "'Be yourself' he said. I'm going to shove this trident so far up his…"

"Talking to yourself?"

I jump and almost topple into the pond, arms pinwheeling. The person behind me catches my arm with a laugh and steadies me. It's Peeta, and the smile he has on his face is a genuinely bright one.

"Peeta," I greet, trying to regain some composure, "How are you today?"

"I'm well Schuyler," his grin widens slightly, "So…who are you threatening with your trident? Not me I hope."

"Not you." I relax slightly. Peeta just has this way of making you calm around him. He's so earnest, and intent on you, that it's impossible to be truly suspicious of him. He's charming, but he's genuine. "My mentor."

"Oh?" is he as bad as Haymitch then?" he asks me, a small grin on his face, "Drunk all day?"

"He's Finnick Odair. Charming all night."

That makes Peeta laugh, and I see eyes looking at us curiously from around the gym.

"I've heard about him. Aren't all girls supposed to be enamoured of him?"

"Most girls probably don't have to put up with him for too long."

"What are we talking about?" Katniss joins us, grey eyes wary as she looks at me, and then soften slightly as she looks at Peeta.

Peeta just beams at her, his face lighting up as it always does when he sees her, "Katniss! Schuyler was just complaining about her mentor…Finnick Odair."

"Finnick Odair?" Katniss pulls a face, "Haven't met him, and can't say I want to. Never found that kind of…obviousness, attractive."

Peeta's smile widens slightly at those words.

"He's alright," I shrug, "He drives me crazy, but I know he's just trying to keep me alive. He's rather like a very ridiculous brother I imagine. Or at least, that's how he is to me."

"So…why aren't you over with the Careers?" Katniss asks me, picking up a spear to take her own turn at fishing, "Aren't you 4's usually part of that circle?"

"I'm not." I say, shrugging easily, "We have differing opinions on some key things."

"Such as?" She glances at me.

"They want me dead and I prefer to be alive?"

That makes Peeta laugh again, "Pretty crucial point there."

"Your District partner wants you dead?" Katniss looks shocked for a moment, glancing at Peeta, "Really?"

"No, he doesn't." I shrug, "But he's not in charge…"

"Cato is." Our eyes meet and for a moment there is understanding there. "It was good seeing you again Schuyler. Let's go try the edible plants again Peeta…"

The pair wander off, Peeta complaining good naturedly about how he gets plants mixed up.

Looking around the gym I look at all the Tributes scattered around. The redhaired girl from 5 is nimbly climbing a rope, the tall and skinny boy from 8 is teaching the girl from 7 about a rolling movement.

It doesn't look like a bunch of children training to kill one another and a chill runs down my spine at the thought that in a few days time, some, or most of these children in this room would be dead.

Perhaps including me.

The thought makes me swallow and I head over to the snares station once more. The girl from 8 is there, and she gives me a shy smile.

"Hi…" she says, finishing off the knot of one of her snares. She can't be more than 13 years old, with fair curly hair and a bright smile.

"Hey," I reply, crouching nearby and twisting some ropes together into a knot, after a moment I look up and see her watching me curiously.

"I haven't seen that kind of knot before."

"We use it on fishing boats." I show it to her, and how one end can be loosened without compromising the whole knot, "Useful, see?"

"Yeah…" she looks at the knot and then at me, "My mentor says your District are Careers."

"I'm not." I sigh; everyone is assuming I'm with them, even though I haven't been near them at all, "They see me as baggage."

"Oh…" she plucks at some grass, "My name's Zara…"


We sit in silence for a while, working, before Zara speaks again.

"Are you scared?"

Her voice is small, and hesitant, like she's unsure about asking the question, and I look up again, meeting her eyes with mine.

"Yeah." I smile weakly back, "Something wrong with you if you aren't I reckon…"

We both look towards the Careers, who are playing with the Weapons again. Darrien and Marvel and chuckling together by the spear station, and Glimmer is struggling with a bow and arrow, while Cato and Clove hack things to pieces with alarmingly clinical precision.

"Darrien, my District partner, is alright." I tell her, brushing some leaves off my pants, "He's not a monster."

She nods, a small smile curling up her lips.

"Thank you…" she says as I stand up.

"What for?" I ask, surprised, looking down at her hazel eyes.

"Talking to me." She gives me a tiny smile, "No one really has."

"Anytime…" I say, feeling my throat constrict, before moving off.

After lunch we are all lined up and set to the obstacle course as one of the compulsory exercises.

All of us are on edge because the Gamemakers are watching, and our performances here will likely be remembered when it comes time to be evaluated. Even the Careers are slightly less obnoxious than usual.

We line up, District 1 to 12, and one by one we run the course.

Interestingly this seems to be one area the Careers are not as strong in. Marvel and Cato are built for strength, and Glimmer, while fit, doesn't seem to be that fast. Clove does the best of them, sliding over things like a lithe, dark cat.

Darrien is pretty good, he's quicker than Cato, and about even with Marvel, except he takes one less hit to the side as he darts through.

Then it's my turn.

The speed I have no trouble with, in fact I'm quicker over the things than even Clove. Where it falls apart is judging the leaping distances, seeing the gauntlet blows coming.

In the end it's my eyes that fail me, as so often happens, and I don't see a padded stick swinging for me.

The trainer was probably assuming I would duck, or slide under, everyone else had after all. But I don't see the movement and the blow catches me straight on the temple.

At once my balance is thrown and I tumble from the high block I'd been running on, hitting the mats with a painful whump.

Gasps come from the other Tributes behind the starting line, while the Careers start laughing.

It's their jeers that goad me into standing, tears filling my eyes as the world swirls woozily. Determinedly I haul myself back up onto the block. Rolling away from the next blow.

I stagger to the end and over the line, with the Career's jibing filling my ears.

I look up at them.

Glimmer is laughing scornfully, Clove is snickering quietly, Marvel is imitating my tumble and Cato has his eyes fixed on mine and he is smirking. Humiliated I look away and take a deep breath.

'I am stone', I think to myself, 'I am the sea, unaffected by anything. I am a still lake'.

"May I try again?" I ask Atala politely, meeting her eyes squarely.

She nods, looking at me speculatively.

"After 12 you may go again."

I make my way down the line, and stand behind Katniss, whose hand reaches out to grip my wrist silently before letting go.

Everyone makes it through reasonably okay. There are a few slip ups, but nothing like my spill, hits are scored and times are slow. The big boy from 11, Thresh, I find out his name is, just barels through, the hits not even affecting him and in contrast his tiny district partner seems to dart here and there, the batons never even looking like they will touch her. Peeta impresses with a quick and nimble time, and then Katniss blows everyone away with speed and agility.

Then it's my turn…again.

"Oh! Here we go again!" Glimmer hoots from her place with the Careers, and they all laugh.

The second run is no better than the first; with the exception of when I am hit this time I don't tumble off the edge of the course.

I am given one last go, though Atala looks thoroughly unimpressed, and I set myself at the beginning.

I take off at the whistle and slide under the first few blows before scrambling up and ducking under the next. A baton comes at me, and somehow I see it, and fling myself forward. It strikes my arm and clatters down. My fingers grab it as I scrabble to my fingers and I hurl myself down the slope to the end.

The Careers are laughing again, and I am done being the brunt of their jokes.

I turn towards them, but everything is blurred, my heart is pounding and my eyes are reacting, going haywire and things are blurring. But I can see the shapes, rough shapes, and Cato and Glimmer's blond hair. Next thing I know, the baton has left my hand to clang against the pillar beside Glimmer.

Silence falls around the hall as I stand there, shaking with humiliation, pain and rage, glaring at the Careers.

"Screw you." I bite out at them, and leave the gymnasium, a Peacekeeper trailing me to make sure I stay away from my fellow Tributes.

"I knew there was a bit of fire in you somewhere." Finnick's voice is cheerful as he barges into my room, despite my telling him to go away when he initially knocked.

Of course he just blithely walks into my room and lies down beside me, where I am flopped down on the bed, face first.

"Wrong District…" I tell him, muffled by my pillow, "District 4, not 12. We're water."

"Well that little display in there was more fire than water sweet cheeks." His hand gently rubs my back, "Darrien's worried about you, you know."

"I couldn't see them." I sniff, feeling my eyes well up with even more tears, "I couldn't see the batons to miss them. Even knowing they were there…I couldn't see them in motion."

Finnick is quiet as his hand gently traces circles on my upper back. Slowly I twist to look at him through eyes red with weeping.

"It'll be okay…" he whispers, stroking my cheek gently, "Sky…"

"What hope have I got…" I choke out, "in the arena, if I can't even see training batons flying at me?"

"It's easy love," he leans in and gives me a tiny smile, "Stay away from the Tributes wielding flying batons."

"Finnick be serious," I snuffle out, giving a choked laugh despite myself, "I'm going to be a sitting duck."

"No you're not…" he tugs me close and kisses the top of my head, "No you're absolutely not. And you know how I know that?"

"Because Finnick is always right?"

"That's my girl," he smiles, "Always listen to Finnick."

"What's the plan then?" I ask him, voice sounding more and more exhausted, "You always have a plan."

"Of course I do." He strokes my cheek, "I don't want you in the Bloodbath, Sky. Today proved that you're vulnerable when things are happening fast around you. The Bloodbath is the absolutely last thing you want to be a part in that case.

"What about…supplies? Or a weapon?"

"Leave it." Finnick's voice is firm, "Don't go in there for anything Sky. I mean it now."

"So what do I do?" I ask, lulled by the sound of his heart thumping in his chest.

"You run," he kisses the top of my head, "You run and you hide. And then when night falls you head back to the Cornucopia."

"What?" I blink up at him, "But the Careers always stay at the Cornucopia…"

"They also, always go hunting on the first night." He smiles down at me, "They are so predictable. And while they're off being the bloodthirsty little monsters we know and love, you slip into camp and collect some useful things for yourself."

I nod, it's a smart plan.

"You'll want to stay near water." Finnick informs me, "Trust me, dehydration is the worst in the Arena. And you have an advantage in water, you can swim."

"What if there isn't water?" I ask softly.

"There is always water." He reassures me, "When they don't have it, the Games end too quickly and the citizens of the Capitol pout and complain. So you can expect water."

I smile weakly and he strokes my hair.

"I lost my temper Finnick." I say softly after long moments of silence, "I doubt Cato is going to find me very alluring now. In fact I've probably made myself an even worse target."

"You may be surprised." He keeps stroking, teasing out the auburn curls, "You didn't do what he expected. Again. By the sounds of it they expected you to slink off, tail between those sexy thighs of yours."

I smack his side gently and he laughs.

"And?" I say, smiling slightly.

"And you didn't. You did the course twice more and threw a baton at them. It may not have been your sexiest moment, but at least your ass would have looked mighty fine doing it."

"You told Felvia to make my pants tighter."

"Mmmmhmmmm," he smiles, "You can thank me later sweet cheeks. But for now, stay away from the Careers, and especially Cato. If I'm right…he'll come to you…and try to antagonise you. Don't rise to it; just…brush him off like he's nothing. Uninteresting…bland…boring…can you do that?"

I nod and settle down against him. Neither of us moves for a long time, until we hear Flora's shrill voice announcing dinner.

Then Finnick gets up, tugging me with him.

"Wash your face sweetness." He tells me, and kisses my forehead again, "I'll see you at supper."

"Finnick?" I call out quietly as he leaves, and just like this morning he turns back, "Thank you."

"My pleasure..." He smiles warmly and then the door shuts quietly behind him.

Chapter Text

"Today's plan," Finnick says, strolling into the dining area of our floor of the Training tower, "Is for no one from District 4 to lose their tempers and throw batons at Careers."

I pause, midway through eating my breakfast and shoot him a look, which he ignores.

"My record's clean," Darrien pipes up, chuckling, "Though not because I didn't want to throw one at them."

"You are so not a help." I inform him, giving him a glare without any real heat.

"Hey…for what it's worth I thought what you did made you look better." Darrien gives me a smile, "It's something right?"

"I'm not going to throw anything at the Careers," I swallow my spoonful and wipe my mouth with the napkin, "I just lost my temper, as you well know Finnick."

"Understandable dear." Mags says gently, walking into the room and pinching Finnick's ear, "Stop tugging the girls braids Finnick and sit down. Eat something, you're looking peaky."

"I do not." Finnick retorts, but walks over to the table anyway and sits down, scooping fruit chunks of strange colours into his bowl, "Today after lunch is when they will evaluate you." He chews on something red and swallows with a grimace, "District 4 is always a good place to be from when it comes to evaluations. They've already seen 1 and 2, and then they have 3. You're generally the last really memorable people normally, and 3 rarely put on a good showing, making you look even better. Use that."

"Darrien," Mags' voice is firm, "Show them all the weapons skills you've picked up over the last few days. Weapons rank higher than survival skills in terms of rankings, they value it more. And the more deadly you look the better."

"Make it a show." Finnick pops a pink grape into his mouth, "They want to see if you'll give the audience a good show. Some people think it's just about the technical skills. Nah uh, it's about flair and style."

"Stylish but deadly, got it." Darrien nods, finishing up his meal, "Anything else?"

"Don't compromise on accuracy for variety." Mags replies, leaning forward slightly, "Many Tributes make the mistake for trying to show too much off, and look so-so in all of them. If you have 2 or 3 weapons you know are better than the others then stick with them."

"And remember, Style!" Finnick adds.

"Don't compromise accuracy for style though." Mags rolls her eyes at Finnick, "It's better to be deadly than showy."

"And me?" I ask quietly.

Mags looks at me and sighs softly, "How are your weapons skills?"

"I haven't used a trident or spear in years." I say, pulling a face, "Except in the fishing station…and those aren't the same as the ones we use in 4."

"I'll give you a refresher on the technique here before you go down," Finnick offers, swallowing another mouthful, "Give you a head start. Practice downstairs, but the instant you start to feel yourself improving…beat feet out of there. Preferably throwing a shit throw as you go. Make it look like you're leaving because you're giving up, not because your eye is in."

"We want the other Tributes to underestimate you as much as possible dear," Mags looks at me carefully, "It's better if they think you're easier to kill than you are. Then, in your evaluation, show the Gamemakers that you at least know how to use each of those weapons. It will go a ways."

"Show the Gamemakers your speed." Finnick nods, "They would have seen your obstacle course yesterday, there's no helping that, but they need to see you're not someone to be written off." He leans in, taking my hand, "We want them to see Darrien as competition and you as not to be written off."

"Got it," I say softly, and he smiles at me.

"That's my girl."

"Darrien," Mags brushes a hand over Darrien's dark hair, "Don't hold back."

"I won't," he replies softly, "We have a plan. I'm sticking to it."

Mags smile is a little sad as she presses a kiss to the top of his head, standing, "That's my boy."

"Like some tips?"

I almost jab the spear into my foot, I'm so surprised. I turn sharply and almost crash into his chest, but his hands come up to steady my shoulders, stopping me from either stumbling forward or falling back.

"Woah, whoah," Marvel looks down at me, an eyebrow quirked in amusement, "Yeesh, jumpy much?"

"What do you want, 1?" I ask, my hand tightening on the spear.

Why is he over here, I wonder, glancing towards the other Careers who are over at the hand to hand station, showing off. Darrien is with them, but he glances over from time to time, concern on his face.

"I can't offer a pretty girl tips on how to kill a dummy with a spear?" Marvel asks; face transforming itself into an innocent expression, "Maybe I'm just being sweet?"

I give him a look, "I seriously doubt that."

"I just looked over here, and you seemed to be struggling." He leans against the pillar, face coming near mine, "And I can see Darrien practically fretting more and more with every missed throw." He says softly, his lips hidden from the others by keeping me in the line of sight.

"Why do you care?" I ask, curious, "He's not your District partner."

"No, you're his District partner." Marvel's hazel green eyes fix on mine, "And for some reason he gives a crap how you do in the Arena."

"And that is your business because…?"

"Look," Marvel leans in closer, "I don't give two flying figs about you as a person. You seem sweet, but useless, frankly and I worry that you're going to be a burden on him. I don't want him getting killed because he's worrying about you."

"Since when do you care so much for my District partner, 1?" I hiss back, intrigued but annoyed at the same time, "Shouldn't you be worrying about your own? She seems to have trouble with that bow and arrow."

"We promised to leave you alone," he says softly, "But the other Tributes didn't promise that. If you get caught in the Bloodbath, by someone who isn't one of us, he'll try to save you. You can't protect yourself properly if your attention is in two places at once."

"So?" I ask, glancing at the spear, "You want to give me tips so I survive, and Darrien doesn't have to worry? Wouldn't it just be better if I died early?"

"Not for him." Marvel's voice is soft but firm, "For me yes, for us the Careers, yes. But not for him. So…want some tips?"

I look at him for a long moment, and then glance back at the Careers, Darrien is glancing our way again, concern on his face. He joined the Careers to protect me, to ensure my longevity in the game until we could work together, put the odds in our favour…but he would risk himself to save me. Marvel is right.

A part of me wonders about this, about Marvel sticking his neck out for Darrien. They'd seemed friendly, the two of them always standing together, talking, training, but I'd had no idea that the friendship had grown to this extent. A part of me is glad though…Marvel is watching Darrien's back, even before we make it to the Arena. He'll keep him safe.

It's a comfort.

And I'm crap at this spear stuff…I could use all the help I can get.

"Sure." I say finally, "That would be great."

"They don't look happy," I jump, again. It seems to be my day for being surprised as I look up from the rows of edible and poisonous plants to find the red haired girl from 5 standing beside me. Nearby I see Zara, the young girl from 8, sidling closer, not trying to eavesdrop but curious, and wanting to be a part of the group.

I look across to where 5 is gazing and am unsurprised to see her attention on the Careers.

Cato is towering over Marvel, who isn't backing down, arms folded just as threateningly as the two glare at one another. Clove is beside Cato, giving him her backing, but Glimmer and Darrien are beside Marvel, something Cato looks extremely displeased about.

"They don't," I agree, fingering the nightlock berry on the table, glancing at the Careers again, "I wonder what's up."

"Cato thinks Marvel's challenging his authority." I glance at her surprised and she gives me a sly look, "I read lips."

"Really?" I'm surprised by that, it's an unusual skill. I wonder idly if Marvel knew she had it, if that was why he'd hidden his lips from the room when we spoke.

"Mmm," she hums, touching the razor leaves of a Dartberry bush, "Adults always have something interesting to say…when they don't think anyone can hear them."

"What are they saying now?" Zara asks eagerly and flinches back when 5 looks at her, "I wasn't trying to eavesdrop or anything…I know Schuyler."

5 looks at me and I give a small shrug and a nod. That seems to be enough because she turns back to look at the confrontation happening across the room.

"Cato's saying 'weak rocks are split apart, because if you try to build a foundation with them, the house falls down.' Poetic, I wouldn't have thought him capable of such profound thought."

That makes me chuckle quietly and Zara grins, sidling up against my side.

"What does Marvel say?" she asks, asking the question I was about to.

"Marvel says, 'She may be useless but 4 is still a Career district, the longer she lasts…the better we'll look.'" She looks at me, her face unreadable.

"They're talking about you Schuyler…" Zara whispers, nudging me in the ribs, "The Careers are talking about you."

"Ugh, I wish they wouldn't." I turn away from them and examine a plant which has a white tuber, something rich and full of good sustaining energy. It was something I'd likely need.

"Cato doesn't like you," 5 points out dryly, "His insults towards you and Marvel are quite pithy and inventive. I may borrow a few."

"I'm not exactly his greatest fan myself." I mutter, tracing the leaves of the tuber plant, "Arrogant ass that he is."

"Arrogance is good." 5 smirks leaning in, "Means they're overconfident. Overconfident people get angry when things don't go their way. And angry people make mistakes. Which then can be used by the people who have been looking for them."

I look at her as Zara asks the instructor about a plant with vividly blue berries on it. My voice is quiet as I speak to her,

"Why are you talking to me?" I ask softly, "You're smart, I doubt you need anyone else. Why talk to me now?"

She smiles slightly and leans against the identification table, green eyes darting around the room before meeting my own, "The Careers will have something the rest of us will desperately want."

"Weapons?" I ask, arching an eyebrow.

"Supplies." She corrects me, lip curling up crookedly, "I plan on….relieving them of some of their burdens."

"Stealing from the Careers…risky." I say softly.

"Not," and she leans in slowly, "If the planning is flawless."

"What do you have in mind?" I ask, intrigued.

"We meet up, every couple of days or so," she smiles, "Be somewhere near the Careers camp, every three days say. I'll find you…we plan an attack and we get supplies. We split the goods and go our separate ways…until three days have passed and we do it again."

"It's risky…" I murmur.

"It's mutually beneficial." She glances towards the Careers again, "I plan on surviving."

"So do I," I say softly and I see her smile quickly.

"Good. I'll see you then."

"What's your name?" I ask, as she begins to move away, "I'm Schuyler."

"I know." She smiles slyly and moves off, "I'm Teesa."

I watch her dart across the gym and smile slightly.


Halfway through lunch they began to call Tributes in to be evaluated. First the boy, and then the girl, from District 1 through to 12.

By the time I am called in, my nerves have become a writhing mess in my stomach. The gym, which had been so full of Tributes and Trainers this morning, is empty, except for the Gamemakers on their observation deck.

My steps echo as I step across the smooth floor and I stop in front of them.

"Schuyler Cavendish," I call out, voice wobbling slightly, "District 4."

The discussions above stop and I find myself suddenly the centre of attention. I lick my lips as Seneca Crane inclines his head towards me.

"Begin, Tribute Schuyler." He nods, leaning back in his chair.

I know how I'm going to start, and so I head straight over to the firestarting station. My fingers move quickly as I build up a small flame. Once it's big enough I tamp it down, without creating a great plume of smoke.

I then dart across to the speedway and start a dash across it, using my speed, and agility to run across it as quickly as possible. The Gamemakers are watching me as I slide through the end up onto my feet, grabbing a trident which I hurl.

I snatch two more spears, aim and then throw.

I stand there, the breath coming hard out of my chest as I see my handiwork. The spears which I had aimed had pierced the dummies, knee and arm. Non killing strikes.

The trident which I'd thrown without really looking had landed embedded in the foam belly.

A disabling strike.

It's something, I think, and let out a deep breath.

I turn back to the Gamemakers and bow slightly. A few of them are smiling, one or two look contemplative. Seneca Crane is impassive as he says, "You may go, Tribute Schuyler."

"Thank you." I say softly and leave the room by the other door, leading away from the dining room.

I'm escorted into another room where some Capitol stylists are there to touch up some makeup, and fix my hair. And some press shots are taken, the shots that will appear in the sky upon my death, the ones that will be used to advertise me in the games.

I make sure I smile slightly, a small, serene smile, remembering Finnick's ploy of marketing me as the Lady of the Lake.

Serene, benevolent, sweet, I think, and flash the camera another small, secretive smile.

"We've got it." The man says after a few more moments, "You can go."

I head back upstairs and collapse on the couch beside Finnick and Darrien, who look at me with a similar questioning expression.

"I didn't completely suck." I tell them and I see Darrien's smile, and Finnick's wink.

"Atta girl."

"So," I walk into Darrien's room after supper, "You and Marvel are awfully close."

The scores had just been announced, with Glimmer and Marvel both getting nines, Cato and Clove getting tens, Teesa getting a five, Zara a four, Peeta an eight and Katniss an astounding eleven.

Darrien had gotten a nine. Something to be proud of.

I'd gotten a six.

He looks up at me in surprise, blue eyes widening slightly.

"What do you mean?" He asks finally.

"Well…you know he was helping me this morning?" Darrien nods, flopping onto his bed, "It was because he didn't want me distracting you…you feeling you needed to protect me. Seems like he was trying to protect you…"

"Oh…well…" Darrien gives a careless shrug which is fooling no one, "I guess he just wanted to fulfil his promise to make sure you lived longer."

"Yeah right," I perch on his bed beside him, "You made a friend…one who actually seems to give a hoot if you live or die…I'm glad."

"Really?" He gives me a small smile, "You're not…mad?"

"Why on earth would I be mad?" I crawl up the bed and hug him, "Darrien…I want you safe as well you know? You want to protect me…and I feel the same about you. I'm so glad you have someone there to watch your back."

He kisses the top of my head and closes his eyes, holding me tight, "You know…it's so weird…"

"What?" I ask quietly, holding him close.

"I feel like…like I've known you forever." He smiles slightly, "Weird isn't it..? We barely knew each other before this…but now."

"We're going through something together…" I murmur back, "We'll only have each other…and'll have Marvel."

"I guess so…" Darrien sighs, "I always wanted a little sister you know."

I laugh softly, "I always wanted a big brother."

"Guess it was meant to be then." He grins into my hair.

"So…you and Marvel?" I tilt my head up, a smile curling up my lips, "He's nice you know…I approve."

"Oh shut it…" Darrien rolls his eyes, "It's not like that."

"Uh huh." I drawl and laugh as he pulls a face at me.

"You've got the annoying little sister down pat."

"Thanks," I grin and snuggle into his chest, "I should get to bed."

"Stay… I just…."

I know what he is trying to say. We are starved of affection, knowing that in a few days we could be dead. We need, crave touch, to feel alive. Hearing his heartbeat…it was like a slow drum, like the tide coming in and out back home.

I am half asleep a few hours later when the door opens and Finnick's head peeks through. He sees us; me curled up in Darrien's arms, the boy asleep, and me, seemingly along with him.

I'm the only one who see's the sad smile on his lips, the way his eyes trail over our faces before he slips out,, and the door slides shut behind him.

Sleep claims me soon after.

Chapter Text

"The interview," Finnick waves his hand expansively, and puts on a fake Capitol accent that sounds remarkably like Flora at her most imperious, "is of vital importance."

"Would you stop that?" I grin at his ridiculousness and chuck a pillow in his direction, "This is serious."

The interview, hosted by Caesar Flickerman, is one of the yearly features of the Hunger Games. It involves a 3 minute interview with each of us, in which we promote ourselves to the Capitol sponsors. It's a chance to show ourselves off, to ingratiate ourselves and make ourselves seen and remembered.

Today is a day to relax and to be coached by our mentors, to learn how to be our most engaging and memorable, so the Capitol doesn't overlook us. Mags took Darrien, into another room, and Finnick whisked me into his room, sitting me down in a chair.

"I think some Districts make the mistake of trying to overcoach this." Finnick comments, leaning back in his seat, "Some people just do better on stage than others, and sometimes it's really difficult to pick who will shine."

"Peeta will," I comment quietly, thinking of the boy from 12's easy charm and confidence, "He has a way with people. Kind of like you except without the…sexual innuendo."

"You wound me." Finnick drawls, lounging in his seat, "You really do Sky. Still…if you think he's going to do well…we need you to be extra memorable."

I tilt my head towards him questioningly.

"He will be the last Tribute on that stage." Finnick rubs his face, "It's the only real advantage District 12 gets in this whole process, and they rarely use it. The Capitol citizens are like cushions Sky, impressed by the last behind that sits on them."

The description of the ridiculous people of the Capitol makes me laugh because I know it's totally accurate.

"So I need to make a lasting impression that Peeta can't overshadow?"

"Ideally," he nods, "We can't plan for that though. 12 has surprised us every single step of these Games and I doubt they're going to stop now. I'm not planning on underestimating them."

"So, what's the plan Finnick?" I ask him, smiling slightly, "You always have a plan."

"That I do." He sits forward, sea green eyes sparkling, "I'm pretty sure I know what tactics the Careers will employ. Glimmer will be flirty, pouty, the blonde sex kitten from the Capitol's pet district. It'll work for her. Marvel," he pauses, "He's got personality, enthusiasm. They know he's deadly, so he'll smack them with charisma. The two from 2." He chuckles dryly, "They'll go for clinical, arrogant killers. It works for their District every year; I doubt they'll change it now."

"What about 3?" I ask, curious.

"I doubt they will be memorable." He shakes his head, "Still, there is always a chance we'll be surprised."

"And then us…"

"You'll be first," he nods, "Now, Caesar always gets inside information, from the Gamemakers and the Tribute's Mentors, meaning me." He places a spread hand over his heart and I roll my eyes at his flair for the dramatic, "I'll share with him our angle, the Lady of the Lake…I've shared it with the Gamemakers as well…they like adding twists to make things more dramatic, so they'll play off something like that, which is to our advantage."

"Or they could use it against me."

"I doubt that." He shakes his head, "District 4 isn't like 1 or 2, but we're still more favoured by the Capitol than the other poor bastards. And you've got something the others lack."

My eyebrows go up and Finnick grins slightly.

"You're a performer."

I shake my head at him, "And where did you get that crackbrained idea Finnick Odair?"

"I saw you," He smirks at me, "Out there with the press at the station…you come alive in front of the cameras. We need to maximise those talents."

"So, what do you want me to do?" I ask, tilting my head to the side.

"Be yourself." Finnick smirks at the look I give him, "No I really mean it. The Capitol will embrace you if you're relaxed and show them who you really are."

"I'm just an archivist in the wrong place Finnick…" I say softly, "No one actually thinks I'm coming out of these games. The six just confirms it."

"So you're not a ruthless killer," Finnick stands and crosses the room to perch on the coffee table, tugging my chair between his legs, "This isn't a game about who's the better killer."

"How is it not?" I exclaim with a choked laugh, "The whole thing is about killing."

"No. See that's the mistake everyone makes." He takes my hands in his, "The Game is about being the last one standing. And yeah being able to sweep everyone else out of the way helps you get there, but in the end…if you don't last til the end…what good does having the highest kill count do?"

"No good." I reply softly and he presses a kiss to my two hands.

"That's my girl. Don't doubt yourself sweetness, Tributes have won, with far less going for them than you do."

"If I win it means Darrien dies." I say, and the words fall like rocks into a still pond. We've all been ignoring this reality, pretending like we can get both of us out of the Arena.

"Yes." Finnick's voice is low, and for once completely grave, "And that is why I am focusing on you and Mags is focusing on Darrien. We are giving you the best chance we can…but I can't get too attached to him…you are my concern, just as he is hers."

"I don't want him to die." I whisper, my hands clenching in his, "He doesn't deserve that…"

"I know…" he sighs unhappily, "But neither do you." One of his hands reaches out and cups my cheek, stroking it gently, "I've been mentoring Tributes for eight years Sky, and District 4 has only won once in that time. I've seen 16 kids from my district, 16 kids who didn't deserve this, go into their Arenas. Only 1 of them ever came out. The others I had to watch die…unable to help them."

My eyes fill with tears, and I suck in a choked breath, "You could have chosen Darrien, you should have chosen him…"

"No." He tugs me in so our foreheads are together, "I was at the Reapings. So was Mags. I always wanted to be your mentor. And Mags…Darrien reminds her of her grandson. She always wanted him."

"But…I'll be another Tribute you have to watch get killed." My voice trembles on the words.

"I don't believe that." Finnick murmurs, holding me close, "I'm going to do everything, everything in my power, to bring you home. Just don't give up on me yeah?" he pulls back and shakes my shoulders gently; "I know there is a bit of fire in you."

"I won't give up." I promise him, and smile as he kisses my forehead.

Its strange, a week or so ago I was an only child, bound to my books, living a quiet life in District 4. Now…now I'm a Tribute in the Hunger Games, with two men that have become like brothers to me. If I survive this…it means I'll lose one of them. But at least I'll have Finnick.

I don't want to die.

Finnick gives me the rest of the day to myself, so I decide to hunt down something to read.

Eventually I ask an avox and she disappears somewhere, returning a little while later with a small pile of books.

One of them is a collection of Arthurian legends, tales from long before Panem was formed, and I scoop it up, my hands cradling the heavy tome. I thank the avox quietly and head to the elevator, taking it up to the 12th floor.

Finnick was the one to tell me about the roof, suggesting that I head up there for some sunshine, fresh air and relaxation. Even though I spent my days in the Archives back home, I still spend the hours I can outside. We're a District of sun, of warmth, of bare feet on soft sand, the smell of salt in the air. Being inside for the last 3 days or so has been taxing.

I glance briefly at the door to the District 12 apartments and push open the other door, which opens up to some stairs, leading up to the roof's dome. Stepping out into the sunshine, breathing in the sweet fresh air, I feel something inside me settle. Maybe I will be alright in the arena, as long as it wasn't enclosed.

Walking over to the garden built off to the side, I smile, sighing with pleasure as I kick off my shoes, padding onto the soft grass. It's gentler than the grass from District 4, which is tough and hardy and adaptive to the salty air and sandy earth. This is soft grass, watered regularly, and given rich dark earth to grow in.

With a smile I lay down on the grass, looking up at the sky for a moment before rolling over and opening my book.

The legends of the Lady of the Lake were Arthurian; refreshing my memory probably wouldn't hurt my case.

I don't know how long I read, the pages seem to fly by, the words soaking into my mind, until suddenly a voice breaks into my contented sphere.

"Well, well, look who we have here."

I look up in shock, to see a pair of legs standing nearby. Twisting, I look up, and up, to see Cato silhouetted against the pale blue sky, arms folded and arrogant eyebrow arched.

"Oh, it's you. Hi 2." I say, acting nonchalant, even as my heart starts to thunder in my chest. I turn back to the book lying before me, but suddenly the words are a little harder to read.

Our paths haven't crossed since our second altercation, and I'd been hoping to keep up my streak for a little longer than this, hopefully until late into the Arena. I hear his footsteps walk closer and I fight not to look around or tense up.

"What are you doing 4?" A large hand suddenly appears in my periphery and I flinch, even as my hands grab at the book he whisks out of my grasp.

"Hey!" I sit up, pushing my hair back off my face with irritation, scowling at him, "Give that back you ass!"

He just smirks at me and considers the book in his hands.

"Arthurian legends?" he looks at me with a raised eyebrow, "That's going to help you in the Arena for sure."

"Not everything is about the Arena." I answer back, standing and reaching for my book, "Now if you please, I would like to continue my reading in peace."

"Why are you even reading this garbage?" he dangles the book out of reach just to be annoying. With his height advantage I know getting the book back will be close to impossible if he chooses to be an ass and keep it just so I can't have it. I glare at him and fold my arms.

"It is not garbage." I retort back, annoyed that he had ruined the peace I had so painstakingly acquired, "They're beautiful stories."

"Fantasy." He snorts dismissively, "Stories about magic and dragons and the like. You think a knight in shining armour is going to rescue you in the arena 4?"

"Of course not." I scoff at him, irritated, "But it is nice to read about a time when chivalry existed. Some people don't seem to have even heard of the concept these days."

It's a pointed comment and he laughs nastily.

"Oh sweetheart, do you want me to gallantly escort you somewhere? Maybe give you a bow before I kill you in the Arena? How about a kiss before I gut your district partner in front of you?"

My face pales at his words and I glare at him once more.

"You are repulsive."

"That hurts me little fish." He chuckles as I move towards the edge of the garden before an arm snakes out and yanks me back. He steadies me against him, and once again I am overwhelmed by the sheer physicality of him, "It's simply a truth you're going to have to get used to. You're going to die…and I'm going to be the Victor."

"I don't think so." I whisper, my eyes darting towards the door to the roof, "Darrien could win. I could win."

"You?" he scoffs and I flinch slightly as he leans in, breath brushing against my cheek, "You're mine little fish, and once the numbers are down I'll be hunting you down. And no one, not Marvel, or your little Darrien, will be able to stop me finding you."

"If I'm so useless," I breathe, my hand clenching into a fist beside me, "Why make such an effort? Why do you to want to hunt me down so badly? Are you threatened by me 2?"

"You?" He barks a laugh again, "Don't make me laugh sweetheart."

"Then why bother?" My eyes meet his, and he stares at me intensely, "Maybe you're the one afraid…"

A smirk curls up his lips, and suddenly I find myself slammed up against one of the ornamental trees in the garden, trapped there between it and Cato's overwhelming bulk. My eyes shoot up to his face and he chuckles, a low, deep dangerous laugh.

"Some animals belong in a cage." He says softly, his hand caressing my cheek in a parody of a tender caress, "Maybe I just like the way you look, all helpless like this."

"Answer the question 2."

"And why should I?" he drawls back, blue eyes amused.

My heart is thrumming in my chest, confusion, fear…and then something like cool, clarity trickles through me.

I relax against him, something he isn't prepared for, and one of my arms curl up about his neck. Take him by surprise, I think, and beat feet out of there.

The voice in my head sounds like Finnick, wonderful.

"Cato…" I breathe, leaning into him. His eyes light up, a hungry anticipation in them, and his arms move, no longer entrapping, but encircling, "I…"

Now I'm acting like Finnick too!

"Schuyler…" his breath brushes against my neck, making my eyes want to drift closed, but I have to be focused on my task. Slowly my fingers find the book in his hand, now held loosely as his attention shifts to my body melding pliantly against his.

For a moment I hesitate, intoxicated by the feeling of being held against his strong body, the sensation of one of those large, capable hands holding my waist. In that moment his lips softly touch the soft, vulnerable skin of my neck, and I realise just how much I want to stay where I am.

It frightens me. He frightens me. And excites me.

In one swift move I shove him away, snatching the book from him as I tumble away from him, scrambling up and dashing from the garden.

"You'll pay for that 4!" I hear him shout as the door shuts behind me and I suck in a shuddering breath before bolting downstairs.

I have to find Finnick.

"Darling, you need to relax."

Finnick watches me as I pace around my bedroom after supper, an eyebrow raised.

"How can I relax?" I ask him, flailing my hands around, "One of the scariest Tributes in the games said, 'You'll pay for that 4!'. How can I possibly relax?!"

Finnick gives me a look, it's a fond but exasperated look and he pats the bed next to him. I slide beside him, huffing softly.

"This is a good thing."

I look at him like he's crazy, "Have you lost your mind?" I ask hoarsely, "Cato said 'you'll pay for that 4' and you're telling me it's a good thing?"

"Stop focusing on that." He faces me, "The most telling thing about that little interlude the two of you had, was how he reacted to you seemingly…submitting to him."

I just look at him and he rolls his eyes.

"He had you in his arms, and suddenly, you aren't 4 anymore… you're Schuyler."

I remember the feel of his breath over my neck and the way he growled my name. I shiver, prickles of heat dancing over my skin.

"He finds you attractive." Finnick murmurs, sea green eyes on mine, "I wondered if it was just because of the costume in the parade, I mean you are lovely to look at but…that costume…any guy would have looked. But he corners you in the Training centre, he uses every single confrontation to bring you close to him, to try and…dominate you."

"You said it before…he loves control."

"Mmmm…" he looks at me, lips pursed thoughtfully, "We can use this Sky."

"What? Him having a thing for control?"

"Him having a thing for wanting to control you." Finnick leans in, "Don't you see, if you two have moments like those in the Games. The Capitol will eat it up."

"In the Games he'll kill me."

"He'll save you for later…" he shakes his head, "He won't want you dead until you submit to him. And that…is his weakness. He's arrogant enough to believe the Game is already his. He gives you an opportunity love; you injure him, or get the hell away. Kill him if you can."

"I can't…" I shake my head and he nods.

"I know…" he inclines his head, "I know. Now…in the interviews…you'll likely get a question about your fellow Tributes. I want you to make some kind of comment about Cato…don't name him, just…something about someone exciting you, or getting under your skin. He won't resist a challenge…or a call like that."


"I know…" he cups my cheek, "Dangerous game love. We have to take risks…if he is protecting you…him and Darrien and Marvel…then you have a chance…a good chance of getting to the Feast…and the odds will turn to be in your favour."

I'm running through District 4, my feet bare, as I run from house to house, desperately looking for someone.

Someone has to be here.

Someone other than me.

Someone other than him.

He's hunting me, and I can feel my heart thundering in my chest as I dash from house to house, room to room.

I dart into my own home, calling for my parents and I hear the door slam behind me.

I whirl, and he is there, his eyes fixed on me.

Slowly he walks forward, as I back away.

"You cannot hide from me."

I try to scramble to the stairs but suddenly he is there, catching me about the waist and dragging me back.

Suddenly I am facing him, and his eyes, his eyes are burning with that light. He holds me against him, so strong I can't even imagine escaping and his voice rumbles across my skin.

"There is no where you could go, where I would not find you."

I look up at him, and he looks back, eyes dropping to my mouth and he leans in to kiss me.


I wake with a shuddering gasp.

All day Felvia and her team have been fussing over me, working on my long curls, smoothing ointments and lotions on my skin, brushing me with shimmering dusts.

I haven't been allowed to see myself, even as Felvia gets to work on slipping me into the actual fabric of her stylistic creation. Finally they are finished and step away. I don't open my eyes.

There is silence for long moments before Felvia says, "Open your eyes, my lady."

Slowly I open them, and gasp at the woman I see standing reflected in the mirror.

She's beautiful, but almost otherworldly at the same time, with huge green eyes, framed by dark eyelashes and smoky makeup which makes them appear even larger and brighter. Her hair is a tumble of soft auburn curls, and held back from her face by a coronet of shimmering pale blue gems. They are woven throughout the long sleek curls, almost like droplets of water sitting on the hairs before melting into them.

But it is the gown that makes me truly awed.

It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, let alone worn, and whispers against my skin like the ripples of water against sand. It's a silver ivory colour, and seems to almost melt around me. The bodice is tight around my waist, and has more of those winking gems, and the skirt is made of material so light it floats as I move.

The entire effect is almost magical, I look like I am made from water droplets sparkling in the sun, and I realise some of the little gems scattered through the skirt are in fact tiny little lights.

I look like the Lady of the Lake, serene, beautiful and softly womanly. My skin shimmers softly, looking touchable and smooth and the swell of my breasts over the corseted bodice are unadorned. I need no fancy necklaces to draw attention to my figure in this dress.

Normally I am just a normal sized girl, fit yes, but just normal, but this dress makes me look like the fertile goddess of the waters, giving, and offering her bounty.

It is subtle, tasteful and made me feel confident.

I tilt my head slightly, and the affect is regal. So I turn and come face to face with Finnick, who is exchanging a surreptitious fistbump with Felvia.

"Love you look," he whistles and my cheeks flush slightly, "You look stunning. Felvia…you are a master."

"I had a good canvas this year." She winks at me and I smile.

"Oh sweetness, smile like that on stage and they will be putty in your hands."

I blush again and Felvia smacks Finnick on the arm.

"Stop that you great pudding, you'll make the poor thing embarrassed."

"What is it with you and Mags and hitting me?" Finnick says, rubbing his arm with mock hurt, "Seriously, did she give you permission or something?"

"I saw her do it, and I agree with her, you deserve it." Felvia walks forward and offers me a hand, "Come on then m'lady, time to meet your subjects."

"What if I…?" I ask Finnick, panic rising in my throat, "Finnick, what if I…"

"Shhh…" he takes my other hand as Felvia helps me down from my stand, "You are beautiful. And you will shine in front of all those people. And Cato will be staring like a loon. You can watch it on the replays later."

I laugh nervously, but let him escort me out of my bedroom, my bare feet whispering along the soft carpet. It grounds me having my feet bare, and Felvia sees it as a lovely juxtaposition, the elegant gown, with the earthiness of the bare feet.


We walk backstage and I ignore the whispering as we join the Tributes.

"Wow…" Zara's little face is full of awe as Finnick steers me to the line, "Schuyler you look."

"You look beautiful." Darrien walks forward, the dark blue material of his suit shimmering like deep moving water as he moves. He walks forward and with a playful smile he gives me a courtly bow. I smile and sweep him a curtsey, "My lady."

"Good sir." I respond, cocking my head to the side and laughing as Zara sighs wistfully. I turn to her to give her a small smile and have to keep from wincing at her dress. It's clear that her stylist is still trying to play on the idea of the textiles district, because there are so many different materials making up her dress. It looks confused and a little sad, unremarkable, but she is smiling at me, and I don't have the heart to show how I feel about the look she has been given, "Zara, you look lovely."

"Thank you!" Her little face lights up, "Purple's my favourite colour, maybe Grippina knew that."

Darrien gently hooks my hand under his elbow, and tugs so I give Zara a small smile goodbye. As I walk down the line, I catch Teesa's eyes and she arches an eyebrow slightly.

Her outfit is a soft dress of light green, and she obviously looks uncomfortable in it. I give her a smile back and then Darrien pulls me into our place in the line.

The young boy from 3 is in front of me, and keeps fidgeting nervously. He eventually stops when Clove snaps at him, twisting around to comment from around Cato's bulk.

"Stand still or the instant I get a knife in my hands it's going in your skull." Her eyes then take in me in my dress and Darrien in his watery suit because she elbows Marvel and nudges Cato who are in front and behind her respectively, "Hello District 4."

Marvel's hazel green eyes look at me in my beautiful dress and then they slide to the side, looking at Darrien, with his suit and curling dark hair and blue eyes. My District partner looks good, I know he does, and I think so does Marvel, because he is staring.

Prickles dance along my skin and I hesitate before looking back along the line to meet Cato's intense blue eyes. He is looking at me, eyes slowly trailing along my body in the shimmering dress and then up, over my breasts to my face, where his gaze locks onto mine.

The breath seems to rush out of me, so transfixed am I by his gaze.

There is anger there, focus, determination…and lust.

It's an emotion I've never experienced directed at me before and my heart hammers wildly. His gaze drops slightly as he stares at my neck, soft, white, exposed, and my breath hitches as I wonder if he can see my pulse thrumming against my skin.

Eventually he looks away, but it feels like an eternity and the air returns to my lungs with a rush.

I glance at Darrien, but he and Marvel still seem to be giving each other the once…or maybe fourth by now…over. I hide a smile and force myself to relax as we are shepherded up the stairs onto the brightly lit stage, to sit in our semi circle.

We are before the Tribute tower, the crowds of the Capitol arrayed before us, screaming their enthusiasm. The sound is overwhelming, as is the blurred array of colours before me and I have to stop myself gripping the chair as I sit, skirts fanning around my legs.

Caesar Flickerman welcomes us, and then the Interviews begin.

Glimmer is first and I'm amused by just how correctly my mentor got it right. She is arrayed in a see through golden dress, and she plays to it perfectly, being coy and flirtatious with all Caesar's questions. The crowd love her, laughing along with her trilling giggles.

Marvel is next and again Finnick is correct. He's charismatic, enthusiastic and really quite charming. He wins them over with boyish innocence, which intrigues them, because they know he's a Career and scored highly.

Then Clove, who is elegant and cold. She doesn't appeal to the audience like the two from 1, but they look at her and know she will do what it takes to win. Which holds its own weight.

She walks back up to her seat and Cato stands, tall and commanding and saunters down onto the stage.

He is a ruthless killer, handsome but icy, and his Stylist has helped him with the ice blue suit he's dressed in. As he walks back up to his seat he catches my eye and winks.

I blush faintly, and hope the cameras didn't catch that…or the wink.

The two from 3 are unremarkable and soon enough it is my turn to stand.

A sort of calm descends over me and I stand.

A ripple of sound moves through the crowd and I look around in surprise as Darrien stands too, stepping forward to escort me down the stairs. It's a beautiful touch, simple and elegant especially when he simply hands me over to Caesar with a small bow towards me and heads back up to his seat.

The crowd I cannot see applaud madly.

"So!" Caesar says as he guides me to sit, "Schuyler, our Lady of the Lake. Tell me about your relationship with your District partner. I think we are all curious after that little display of chivalry."

The crowd cheers wildly and I glance up towards the other Tributes, but my eyes meet Cato's rather than Darrien's.


I wonder if he remembers our comments on them.

From the intensity of his gaze…I would say yes.

"Darrien is like a brother to me." I say, turning back to Caesar with a soft smile, "Since the Reaping he's been there for me, supporting me and protecting me. I don't know what I would have done without him."

The audience awws, and the cameras catch Darrien's small smile, looking down at me.

"Nothing else?" Caesar says, winking slightly, "I can keep a secret you know."

"Oh of that I have no doubt Caesar," I banter back with a smile, "But no, I have no deeper feelings for my District partner…"

It's the opportunity Finnick wanted me to grab, so I glance up at the Tributes again, my voice trailing off.

Caesar is quick to pick up on the meaning of the opening and he immediately uses it.

"Do you have feelings for someone else then my dear? Perhaps another Tribute?"

Unwillingly I feel my cheeks flush, and I know by the oohing of the crowd that the cameras have caught it.

"I…I don't know if I can call them feelings Caesar," My head ducks slightly, "But he…" thinking of Cato makes my breath hitch slightly, "affects me like no one else ever has."

From the twitterings, the awing and the whispers, it's obvious that the Capitol are lapping this up.

"Can we have a name?" Caesar asks coaxingly, and I blush again, shaking my head, "Oh you are tormenting us my dear. Isn't she?" he asks the crowd which responds with overwhelming cheers to the affirmative, "Will you act on your feelings? Perhaps in the…Arena?"

I chuckle softly, and tuck a hair back behind my ear.

"Caesar…I'm sure he would rather kill me than kiss me."

The crowd awws sadly, and Caesar kisses my hand, "I find that hard to believe my dear, you are ravishingly beautiful. Why if I was younger I would show your mystery tribute how a lovely woman such as you should be treated. Am I right folks?"

The cheers are deafening as they cheer, and grow even louder as I smile.

"Now…Schuyler. What do you think your greatest strengths are for the Hunger Games?"

"Speed," I say at once, "Resilience and determination." I look out at the blurry faces, "Don't underestimate me. I will surprise you. I can promise you that."

The buzzer goes off and Caesar Flickerman guides me to my feet, presenting me to the crowd, which cheers madly.

Suddenly Darrien is there, and he is helping me back up the stairs, before heading back down to his own interview. I climb the final part alone and sink back into my seat, smiling slightly.

I glance towards Cato and find his icy blue eyes on me, smouldering slightly. I look away, feeling my cheeks colouring once more, and look down to Darrien, who has taken his seat opposite Caesar.

"Darrien!" Caesar claps him on the knee, "So your District partner is the Lady of the Lake and you are the Water warrior. What do you think those legends mean to you?"

"Well Caesar," Darrien is calm, strong, "Schuyler is the epitome of the Lady of the Lake, gentle, kind, but with the kind of strength that shocks people who underestimate what she's capable. And I'm her warrior, sworn to protect her. With my life if needs be,"

The crowd laps it up, and the camera captures me shaking my head.

"She disagrees." Caesar points out with a smile.

"She would." He laughs, "She doesn't like the thought of me dying for her."

"She said that you were like a brother to her. Is she like a sister to you?"

"Absolutely," he nods, "We've already spoken about it, and she knows how I feel about her. She's like my baby sister, I feel like it's my prerogative, my right to protect her."

"And do you know who this mysterious suitor of hers is?" Caesar asks, winking at the audience.

"No actually." He chuckles dryly, "Her love life is strictly her business. I'm just going to protect her…any way I can."

He went on to ask him about his training and scores and I smile softly down at the brave, confident young man. My heart aches at the thought of Finnick's and my conversation, just yesterday morning. If I were to live, Darrien, sweet loyal Darrien would be dead.

As his interview finished I stood, hugging him tight as he walked to our chairs. The audience awed as we clung together, holding each other tightly. He pressed a kiss to my temple, and pulled away, letting me wipe my eyes and sit down.

The other interviews are quite unremarkable, Teesa uses her brains, her quick wits and intelligence, and I know some Sponsors will be watching her.

Then it is Katniss, who giggles and spins in her dress, flames fanning around her.

But it is Peeta who steals the show.

"She came here with me." He says and I suck in a breath, looking down the line to Katniss who is sitting stiffly, face impassive.

We all leave the stage, Darrien escorting me once more and the Stylists and mentors swarm around us. The 12 crowd move swiftly into the building and into the elevators and we follow.

A hand catches my arm and holds me back as the others move off without me. I see a flash of sea green and know that Finnick has seen me, but he doesn't move back, so I turn to face Cato.

His blue eyes are intense as they stare down at me, full of something dark and confused as he looks at me.

"The roof." He says finally, tugging me a step closer, "Tonight."

I look up at him, and say something I hope I won't regret.


Chapter Text

When I reach the roof I discover I am not the first one there.

Peeta is sitting on the wall looking out across the Capitol skyline and I hesitate for a moment before walking over to him. I lean over the wall and feel him look at me in surprise.

"Hey Schuyler," he says softly, giving me a tiny smile.

"Hey Peeta," I smile back and then notice that his hands are bandaged up. They hadn't been a few hours ago at the interviews, I'm sure of that, so I frown, reaching out to touch one with a fingertip, "What happened?"

"Oh…" he pulls a face, "Just…Katniss."

"Katniss?" I look up at him with surprise, "Katniss did that to your hands?"

"She was…unhappy about the interviews." His face is set in tense unhappy lines and I mouth an 'o' before wrapping an arm around him.

"She'll get over it." I say softly, rubbing his back, "She's a lucky girl you know."

He huffs a laugh, "Thanks. What about you and your…tribute?" He looks at me, "Did he know you were going to say something?"

I shake my head, "There wasn't much to say, just that he affects me like…well it's never happened to me before." I chuckle weakly, "I wasn't exactly the cool kid of District 4."

"I wasn't either," He offers, wrapping an arm about my shoulders and letting me lean against him, "But I'm sure you had guys interested…you're pretty."

I laugh softly, "No…thanks but, I was a bit of an oddity. I miss it though…"

"Me too…"

We both sigh wistfully and then look around as a break in the wind lets us hear someone coming up the stairs.

Katniss pushes open the door and pauses, looking at us.

I smile at her and give Peeta a hug, "I'll let you both talk." I murmur, "See you in the Arena Peeta."

He squeezes my arm gratefully and I move away, around the roof until they are out of sight and I am stepping into the oasis of the garden.

I walk over to the wooden bench and sprawl on it, letting my eyes drift closed as I lie there, breathing in the sweet fresh air.

"There you are,"

My eyes shoot open at the sound of his voice and I sit up, watching as he walks over to me, dressed in a casual shirt and loose pants, his hair spiky and damp from a shower, skin still a little pink from the hot water.

He looks…really good.

Which is something I really shouldn't be thinking.

"2," I greet and he rolls his eyes, coming to a stop before me.

"I think we're a little past that now Schuyler." He says dryly, but his blue eyes are intent on my own, "Well past it in fact. Since I 'affect you like no one else'." The smirk on his lips can only be described as smug.

"Who said I was talking about you?" I retort back, pushing my hair back behind my ears, "Bit egotistical don't you think 2?"

"You were talking about me." Cato walks closer, but his eyes narrow slightly.

"How do you know?" I purse my lips, "It might have been Peeta, and now I'm heartbroken because he loves Katniss."

"Stop that." He frowns.

"Thresh seems like a decent enough man. Maybe I fancy the strong, silent types…"

"It was me." He leans over me and I tilt my head back to keep our eyes on one another.

"Or maybe it's Marvel? He did give me those handy lessons on spear work and he was so chivalrous about it."

He growls and suddenly he yanks me up from the bench and against his solid chest. I gasp, clutching at him instinctively and look up at him, eyes wide.

"It was me." He says lowly, blue eyes intensely focused on mine, as a hand slowly strokes down my exposed throat, pausing on the beating pulse there, "I affect you. I can feel it right here."

I swallow and his answering grin is sharp, feral almost.

"You're still an insufferable ass." I breathe but he knows that he's won this round.

"So," He loops his arm around my waist, holding us close together, "You are attracted to me, you're pretty enough…and I'm not without some mercy. I'm sure I can make your last few days alive…very pleasurable."

I look up at him shocked.

"You are…unbelievable!" I hiss at him, shoving at his seemingly immovable chest, "Let go of me you absolute prat!"

"What?" he looks down at me, arching an eyebrow, his arm unmoving from around my waist, "You already admitted I was the Tribute. I fail to see what the problem is."

"I have absolutely no intention of just….laying back and letting you just…How dare you!" I splutter my indignation and feeling my temper spike I slap him hard across the face.

"Fuck," he lets go of me for a moment hand touching his face for a second before staring at me, "Oh sweetheart that was a big mistake."

I yelp and scramble back but not quite fast enough as his hand flashes out and grabs my arm.

I'm yanked back against his chest, my arms pinned as I squirm desperately.

"2!" I try to kick back at him and huff as he chuckles, the vibrations rumbling through me, "Let me go!"

"My offer was extremely generous," he growls in my ear and I shudder in his arms, "Just how long do you think you're going to last in the Arena pet?"

"I'm going to survive long enough to see you knocked on your arrogant ass!" I snap back.

He laughs and his arms tighten around me, "Oh sweetheart, you're just a little fish." He bites my neck and I yelp, squirming, "The bigger fish will eat you up as soon as look at you."

"They won't see me!" I gasp out, "Let me go!"

"I'm offering you the chance to live!" He yanks me around so I'm facing his blazing blue eyes, "Why are you fighting me, you stupid girl!"

"Cato!" I snap and his eyes darken slightly at the use of his name, his hands spreading over my lower back, holding our bodies together, "You affect me, but your arrogance is far from attractive! If you think that this…physical chemistry is enough for me to just…fuck my way to the end of the Hunger Games, then you have another thing coming!"

"Then you'll die!" he snaps.

"So be it!" I shout back.

He shoves me away from him roughly and storms off.

"You're a fool Schuyler." He bites back at me, "Well don't you worry, I'll find you and you won't have to worry about that pesky living problem anymore." He looks around at me, and his handsome face is twisted with bitterness, "I'll kill your Darrien and then you. And no one will remember you. Either of you."

I stand there, watching him as he walks away.

"You will." I whisper.

"You two are terrible at communicating," Finnick drawls from where he is sprawled on my bed, "It's like watching a awful Capitol soap opera."

"Having a crisis here Finnick, it's not really a great moment for your brand of humour." I scold, waving a hand at him.

"On the contrary love," he gives me a small smile, "Those are the moments when it is perfect."


"Oh fine, Sky…" he sits up, looking at me intently with those sea green eyes of his, "Do you know why he got all, aggro male on you?"

I blink at him, obviously clueless.

"He thought you'd rather die than submit to him." He chuckles dryly, "You wounded his pride."

"He has more pride than anything else," I throw my hands up into the air, "What was I supposed to do? Just….I couldn't Finnick…"

"Sky," he reaches out, "I wouldn't want you to do that unless it was absolutely your idea. He was an absolute tool for suggesting it but…"

"But?" I look at him incredulously, "How can there be a but?"

"But," he gives me a look, "He's a Career from District 2."


"He's been training for this since he was around seven or so years of age, and they test for aptitude before then." Finnick looks at me, face serious, "His whole life has been conditioning him to be a ruthless killer. To seek victory at any cost. I doubt he's ever had any kind of really meaningful interaction with a girl. Not properly. Physical, yeah he'd be experienced, but as far as the emotional goes, you're way ahead."

"So I should have just…"

"No…" he shakes his head, "No…but you need to realise the power you have. He offered to keep you alive…just because he was lusting for you. If you didn't affect him as much as he affects you, he wouldn't even be bothering. He'd just…wait until the games were over and shag it out with some girl then. Or shag some other girl in the games if it was a matter of the thrill."

I pull a face at him and rub my hair, "So…what should I do?"

"The plan hasn't changed love," he reaches out to me, "You can do this."

"Finnick," I flop onto the bed beside him, "I'm scared."

"I know love," he tugs me close and I bury my face in his shoulder, "I know."

We watch dawn breaking through the window of my bedroom.

Neither of us had been able to sleep throughout the long night, fear haunting both of us at what might come the next day. Perhaps if we stayed awake the day would not come as swiftly.

But the sun rose as it did every day, only this time I was being soothed by Finnick's fingers through my hair.

It's Flora who forces us to leave our haven, knocking on the door and twittering about what an exciting day it is. I glance at Finnick as he stands from the bed, and my stomach clenches at the pale cast to his face.

"Finnick?" I whisper.

He looks at me, his sea green eyes dark and gives me a weak smile, "You can do this."

"I don't think I can," my voice shakes, "I can't go Finnick, please…"

He crouches by the side of the bed and takes my face in his hands, kissing my forehead and cheeks softly, "Hey, hey…none of that." He strokes my cheek, "Where's my little spitfire Sky, who slapped a Career tribute and called him an arrogant ass, mmm?"

"She doesn't exist," I break down slightly, heaving a shaking breath as some tears leave my eyes, "I don't want to die Finnick."

"You won't." He pulls me into a hug, "I'll be there with you every step of the way. Sponsors, medicine, protection…I'll get them for you. Don't give up on me Sky…"


"Come back to me." He makes our green eyes meet and something inside me seems to listen, "I've seen too many of my Tributes die. I won't lose you. Promise me."

"I promise." I whisper back, a kind of calm filling me at his words, "For you."

He believes in me, the only person who really does. He believes I can win, that I will come back, that I will return to him. It's humbling, and I realise that I'd do anything not to let this man down.

Slowly he stands, tugging me up with him, and kisses my forehead.

"Get ready love. I'll see you at breakfast."

As he disappears out the door I run my hands through my hair.

"Happy Hunger Games," I whisper, wiping away the traces of those few weak tears, "And I'm going to make sure the odds are in my favour."

Breakfast is quiet, except for Flora twittering eagerly about the Games starting this afternoon.

Neither Darrien or I wish to eat anything but it's Mags who convinces us.

"You need the energy to run and fight." She says, her voice brooking no nonsense, "They'll blow you sky high if you faint off your pedestal, it's happened before."

Finnick snorts, "Sky high…"

Mags kicks him under the table, "Finnick!"

I giggle, a touch hysterically but it's something and Darrien grins weakly.

Afterwards we are given a short time to say goodbye to our mentors and Flora before we head up to the roof to board the hovercraft bound for our Arena.

Mags hug is warm and I breathe in the sweet sea smell that she seems to imbue, "Run swiftly." She murmurs to me, "Look after my boy will you?"

"You have my word." I whisper back.

Finnick's hug is longer and I find myself clinging to him, body shuddering slightly.

"Remember everything I told you." He breathes into my hair, "Run from the cornucopia, hide, and steal supplies when the Careers are hunting, find a base of your own if you can. Stay away from the other Tributes until the Feast. You can do this."

"I'll come back to you." Our foreheads rest together for long moments before he eases back and kisses my cheek.

"That's my girl."

Then they are gone, and it is just me and Darrien and the hovercraft full of Tributes.

We don't say goodbye. We simply take each others hands in ours and squeeze them.

We know the score.

This is it.

Zara gives me a small smile and a wave, Teesa merely nods, Peeta looks like he's about to be sick, and Marvel is muttering something to Darrien.

Cato isn't on this hovercraft. Neither is Katniss.

When we reach the Arena underground I am ushered into my launch room by impassive Peacekeepers and almost run into Felvia's arms.

Everything is almost like a daze from then. I remember it in flashes, blurry flashes, as my panic begins to affect my eyesight.


The uniform, woodlike brown pants, green shirt with a 4 stitched on the sleeve and a thin jacket that I huddle in, shivering.

The last meal, Felvia makes me drink and forces me to eat some soft fresh bread.

The alert, telling me to get in my tube.

Felvia's last words, "Show no fear."

And then I am in the glass tube, trying not to throw up as I ascend into the sunlight above.

"Ladies and Gentlemen! Let the 74th Annual Hunger Games Begin!"

Chapter Text

Sixty seconds.

I can make out the glowing numbers slowly ticking down on the metal of the cornucopia; they are light and bright and therefore easier to see against the darkness of the opening. Glancing around me, I can see all of us arrayed around the horn, all an equal distance from it, and dressed identically except for the number on our arms.

I can't make out faces, especially not those furthest from me, my nerves are ratcheting up with every number that passes by and my heart pounds in my throat. My eyes blur even more and I look around desperately.


My eyes lock onto the familiar blue and glitter of water and I feel some of my abject, freezing terror fade.

If I can get to the water…no one will be able to catch me.

I glance around again and pull a face. I'll have to run into the forest and make my way around. Running straight to the lake would mean I'd have to cut through the bloodbath about to unfold. The one place Finnick did not want me to be.

Licking my lips I steel myself, glancing up at the glowing numbers.

Twenty seconds.

My eyes flick to my right and I see Peeta there, pale but determined. He's set like me, ready to flee away from the Cornucopia, but his eyes are on Katniss.

I look to the left, and meet the male tribute from 5's frightened hazel eyes. Hastily I look away once more.

Five seconds.

I steady myself.

Three, two, one…

A horn blows and I take off, racing through the meadows grass. All I can hear is my heart pounding, the blood thundering through my ears as I sprint for the cover of the heavy trees.

My feet pound against the ground, and I almost feel a thrill at my speed, surely no one is following me.

A shape comes up near me, looming in my blurred periphery and I yelp, zagging away from my pursuer. Glancing around wildly, I see Peeta's blue eyes, and a flood of relief fills me.

He won't kill me, not yet.

Together we sprint into the trees and the instant we reach the cover and shade we stop. He throws himself behind a thick trunk and I dive into the thick undergrowth.

Together, without speaking we slide forward, driven by morbid curiousity, we have to see the bloodbath.

We have to see what we fled.

It's a mess, a giant mess of flailing Tributes, grappling and fighting, blood everywhere. I can't see details, but I can see the colours, the green and beige of the uniforms, red blood, flashing silver weapons. Peeta is beside me, crouching, and we peer together to see what is happening.

"Peeta," I ask, my breath slowly slowing down, "Can you see who's…dead?"

"Not really." He crawls forward an inch, squinting, "The boy from District 7 just got killed, Thresh is racing for that wheat field over there…" I can see the huge dark shape running away from the cornucopia.

I let out a shaky breath and Peeta presses his shoulder against mine.

"Everyone has high tailed it into the forest," he glances down at me, "Why didn't you?"

"Why didn't you?" I retort back in a whisper.

"I asked you first," he rolls his eyes, as I just look at him "Ergh, fine…I'm joining the Careers. Or I'm going to try to."

"Are you crazy?" I hiss at him, hauling him back down into the underbrush as he moves to stand, "Peeta! They'll kill you."

"They already said they'd take me if I survived the bloodbath." He looks at me, "I have to protect Katniss."

"And who's going to protect you?" I hold his arm, "Peeta…"

"I have to do this." He detaches his arm from my hands, "You take care."

"Peeta!" I grab his ankle, and he looks down at me with exasperation, "Just…be careful? And tell Darrien you saw me…that you saw Sky. He'll watch your back…if you watch his."

Peeta smiles down at me, his face pale again, and then he's stepping out into the field, walking towards the Cornucopia.

"They won't kill him."

I jerk, making the underbrush rustle slightly, and twist to glare at Teesa who seems to have materialised beside me out of thin air.

"Do you mind not sneaking up on me like that? Nearly gave me a heart attack…" I growl at her, letting out a deep breath.

Teesa smirks and we both watch Peeta walking across the green grass, "They won't kill him," she repeats, resting her delicately pointed chin on her hand, "Not yet anyway."

"What makes you so sure?" I ask, my eyes not leaving Peeta as I see some dark shapes merging to meet with him, "Who knows how many Tributes they just killed."

"Ten," Teesa's eyes are cool as she watches them too; "Ten tributes were killed in the bloodbath."

"How do….how do you know this stuff?" I ask her, impressed despite myself.

"I was watching." She shrugs elegantly, "It's amazing how little people pay attention when you're quiet and fast."

We watch silently as Peeta comes to a stop before the Careers and I hold my breath, fingers clutching at the underbrush.

A shape detaches from the Career group and I gasp as I recognise Darrien. I can't see his face but I can tell by the way he moves, it's Darrien, I'm sure of it. And he is slinging an arm about Peeta's shoulders, drawing him into the pack. Another steps out to move with them, and I think it's Marvel, shadowing my District partner yet again.

"He's good." Teesa rolls onto her back, relaxing slightly, "Told you he would be."

"How did you find me anyway?" I ask her, still watching the slightly blurred shapes of the Careers, they were sharpening a little now as my nerves began to settle.

Her answer is interrupted as cannons began to fire, and we quietly count them out loud.

"…eight, nine, ten."

"Ten dead, like I said," Teesa purses her lips, "Leaves fourteen of us, including the Careers. The odds are getting better."

I can't answer her, my mind is still focused on the whole idea of ten tributes, ten young people who had eaten their breakfast like me this morning, who had stood on those pedestals, who had been Reaped, taken from their families and Districts, ten children like me…were dead.

I knew Darrien was alive, I knew Cato was, his strong frame was impossible not to recognise even at this distance, Teesa was of course, and Peeta and Katniss. But what about little Rue? And sweet Zara? The odds were good that one of them was in that bloodied mess.

"Hey," Teesa elbows me gently, "You alive over there?"

"Yeah," I let out a slow breath, "I'm guessing you have the same plan as me?"

"Raid the Career camp when they are off hunting the other Tributes?" She smirks slightly, "They are predictable."

I nod and watch as Cato grabs Peeta by the scruff of the neck, hauling the boy with him down to the water. There is no real aggression in the gesture, and I'm shocked to realise that I can read the Career boy's body language. He's establishing dominance, making sure Peeta knows just who is at the top of the pack pecking order.

When did I start understanding the leader of the Careers?

Unnerved I look at Teesa, "You should get some sleep; we'll need to be fresh for sunset."

"You're good to guard?" She asks, eyeing me shrewdly, already settling herself down, and I can't help being surprised, and touched, by her belief that I won't hurt her.

"Yeah," I nod, "I want to watch those Careers some more. Maybe learn something."

Teesa snorts, "Schuyler they are humans at their most basic. Their concerns are killing, eating and sleeping. Anything else is just subsidiary at this point." I roll my eyes and she smirks, closing her eyes, "Oh lust might be in there too, judging by the way 1 and 4 keep eyeing each other."


She grins, a rare open grin and then rolls over. Soon enough I see her breath even out into sleep.

I look back out at the Careers and watch Darrien and Marvel stacking up supplies.

"Stay safe Darrien," I whisper, feeling concerned for the boy I'd come to love as a brother.

Night falls and the Careers, who had napped in the sunlight for most of the afternoon, begin milling about eagerly, gathering up weapons and some supplies.

Gently I shake Teesa's shoulder and she comes awake instantly, brown eyes blinking up at me before sharpening to full alertness. Together we watch the Careers pushing and shoving one another, their excited voices carrying in the still night air to our hiding place.

"How can they be like that?" I whisper, and Teesa shrugs.

"Same way kids can bully other ones; it's about being at the top of the pack. They'll get serious when one or two of them get picked off."

The figures disappear into the trees and both of us let out a low breath.

"Let's move," I stand and Teesa follows me as we quietly follow the forest around to the dark lake edge. There is a grove of trees here, leading down into the water, meeting the rushes and the reeds. We're much closer to the encampment from this position, and we have a clear view of where the Careers disappeared into the forest.

"The trick is to take enough to last us the days we need," Teesa murmurs in my ear, "But not take enough that they notice someone has been. If they notice, they'll start posting a guard, and I'd rather save that for later in the game."

I nod but the two of us stay where we are.

Both of us are cautious about the Careers, especially me. I don't think Peeta told Cato about my presence nearby, but I cannot be sure so we linger in the shadows.

Tracking the moon we realise we've waited almost a full hour and so we slowly slip out of our shadows.

Only to dive back in as suddenly the anthem of Panem blasts across the Arena.

"Seriously?" Teesa grumbles, glaring up at the sky, "They are seriously taunting us."

My smile is weak in response as I read the words 'The Fallen' under the Capitol crest, followed by the face of the girl from District 3, Teesa's male district partner is next but she doesn't show any emotion other than a tightening around her mouth.

"He didn't stand a chance." She says quietly, "He stuttered constantly, he couldn't even look at people."

Both of the tributes from 6 follow, then the two from 7, the boy from 8, and I breathe a sigh of relief because that means that Zara, little sweet Zara is still out there somewhere. Two 9's follow and then the girl from 10 and I release the breath I was holding. That's it; those are the ten tributes who died this morning.

The music fades away and Teesa and I remain in the shadows, not looking at one another.

"What was his name?" I ask quietly, unsure if she'll answer.

"Does it matter now?" she growls at me, shredding a blade of grass, "No one's going to remember him in a few days."

"Teesa," I touch her shoulderblade but she shrugs me off.

"Enbrin." She sighs and shakes herself, "We'll wait another hour, and then we'll go in."

I nod and we lay there in silence, me watching the trees and the camp, while she silently shreds the grass in her immediate vicinity.

"Alright," I murmur and she seems to perk up, relieved to be able to put her brooding thoughts about her District partner to the side, "Let's move."

Silently we race out into the open field, our boots thumping softly against the grass and then the hard packed earth around the mouth of the cornucopia.

"How generous of them," Teesa whispers to me as we look at the three distinct piles of supplies, "They sorted everything for us. Find a small pack for yourself and let's move."

I nod again and duck around the back of the largest pile, shifting a few things to tug out a backpack I'd noticed. It is dark blue and small enough not to be noticed missing. I check inside and smile as I find a small water container, water purifying tablets, matches, rope and wire.

"Perfect," I whisper and push them all back in.

Quickly I move to the second pile and open a container. Food. Quickly I select a small bread roll from the box and slip it back. I take one thing from each box I open until I have a good range of food supplies in my bag. And no one will notice their absence.

The third and smallest pile is weapons and I hesitate over them, unsure about touching such deadly things.

Finally I retrieve a pair of small hunting daggers, slipping them into the sides of my pack. A shortsword follows, too light and flexible to interest Cato, and then I grab the final thing I'm interested in.

A fishing trident.

It reminds me of Finnick, he won his games armed with a trident and a net of his own making. Having this, even though it's not nearly as beautifully crafted and deadly as his makes me feel a little like he is with me.

Plus…I can try to fish! I won't starve but fish would probably make an excellent fresh source of protein.

"Time to move," Teesa hisses at me and I nod, racing over to her and the two of us streak for the trees.

We are ten paces from the lake when I hear the scream.

It's a girl's scream, terrified, and my feet stumble because I know that voice.

I don't know how I know it's Zara, but something inside me recognises the sound of her voice. I have no doubts it's her.

And I have no doubts that what I'm going to do is crazy.

"See you in three days," I hiss at Teesa and race past her, I see her confused expression for a moment before I'm running through the forest, racing towards the scream, running at top speed towards the delicate tendril of smoke that I can now smell and see,

"Zara, tell me you didn't light a fire," I whisper as I run.

I hear laughter, the laughter of the Careers and I veer off to the side, looping around them. They are so busy being arrogant and show boating about their kill that they don't hear me as I dart silently by.

They don't realise Zara's canon hasn't gone off.

I break into the clearing and glance wildly around.


And there she is, sprawled beside the fire that cost her, her life.

"Zara," I whisper, dropping to my knees beside her, my fingers fluttering helplessly above her body before trying to staunch the terrible wound in her belly, "Oh Zara why did you do it!"

I can feel the tears welling in my eyes as the blood seeps around my fingers, spilling to the ground. Her face is pale, deathly pale, but she still manages to smile slightly.

"C-cold." She whispers, a small hand lifting to touch the tendril of a curl that had escaped my pony tail, "F-fire was the only s-s-station I was g-good at," her face contorts with agony and her breath hitches, "I w-w-want to go home Schuyler."

"Shhh," my fingers shake as I stroke her soft curls, brushing them out of her eyes, tucking them behind her small ears, "Shhh, now, you're going to be okay. I promise."

She smiles up at me, trusting, before her face betrays the pain again, "Sky…"

My head snaps up as I hear footsteps suddenly in the brush, and my hand reaches out for the fishing trident I'd dropped beside me. My breath hitches as I grab it, as fear begins to grip me. The Careers have realised that her cannon hasn't gone off.

They've come back to finish her off.

"Don't leave me," Zara's wide eyes are terrified, as she chokes on a wet cough, blood dribbling down her cheek, "I don't want to be alone!"

I'm frozen beside her as Peeta walks out into the clearing.

"Sky!" He hisses at me, before looking down at the dying girl with pity in his eyes, "Oh god, Sky I…"

"I can't…" I tell him, hating my weakness but as Zara whimpers again I clench my jaw, "Peeta…make it quick…"

He kneels beside me, beside her, and waits as I kiss her forehead.

"Ready?" he whispers.

"You're not alone," I murmur to her, holding her close, "I'm here little one, I'm here…"

My eyes meet Peeta's and don't leave as I hear his knife sink into her. There is a choked gasp and then…the cannon fires as I feel her final breath feather across my cheek.

The tears start to fall as I look down at her, the innocent little girl from District 8 who'd followed me around the training gym, who'd worn the purple dress, who'd been so proud of learning to make fire.

The primal wail builds up inside me, and Peeta grabs me, muffling it in his shirt as I sob and sob against him.

"Sky…Sky…I have to go…" He holds my arms, pulling me up and away from the dead girl, "Go…go! Don't let them see you…"

My chest aches as I stumble away, looking back only once at Zara, her little face illuminated by the fire.

There is no peace in this, not in these games.

I run, for the second time this evening, but this time I'm running the way I'd come, back towards the lake. I'm clutching the trident in my hands, silent sobs wracking my body.

Finally I stumble and fall, sobbing into the undergrowth, screaming and howling into the moss and dirt, muffling my grief in the ground. Zara. I'd never thought she'd win, but…I'd never thought of her dying either.

"Finnick…" I sob, hands tearing at the loose ground around me, "Finnick!"

I need him so much right now it hurts. But he's not here…he's back in the Capitol…watching me fall to pieces.

He said I reminded him of Annie Cresta, and suddenly I realise why.

I can't lose it…not like this. I promised him, I promised him I'd win.

The thought makes me still and I lay back, eyes closing, fingers tightening on the trident.

"May the waves carry you home." I whisper, "As one day they will carry me."

It's a small phrase, something from my District, but it calms me. Slowly I crawl up and into the hollow log nearby, not even caring if there is a venomous snake or something else equally deadly in there.

I simply curl up, and for the first time in almost two days, I fall into an exhausted sleep.

Chapter Text

Trudging through the forest, following the curve of the lake, I can almost imagine that I am all alone, out in the wilderness.

It is another warm, bright day, the blue sky shining down brightly through the green canopy of the trees, especially here on the shore where the foliage is less thick. The steady sound of my feet through the grass and leaves is almost soothing, something to focus on rather than the events of the night before.

Zara's death still hurts, my chest aches a little from the knowledge that I had seen a little girl die in my arms. I'd woken with her blood still on my hands, dried on and caked, and upon finding the lakeshore, washing them had been my first priority.

I'm determined not to fall apart though.

For Finnick, because it would break his heart to get me through the Games only for me to be a shell of the girl he'd known.

For Darrien, who took risks to keep me safe.

For Cato, who had so blithely dismissed me as weak. No way was I going to prove him right if I could help it. Cocky ass.

This resolution prompted me to walk around the lake, searching out a good place to use as a base of operations. I needed somewhere I could defend easily.

And soon enough I find it.

I turn a corner of the lakeshore and gasp as I see the reason for the soft rushing roar I'd been hearing for the last hundred paces or so. It's a small waterfall, the height of two people, water rushing over the edge into a small lagoon that flows out into the main body of the lake.

Slowly I move forward, walking around the lagoon edge to reach out, my hands cupping the water from the waterfall, letting it flow through my fingertips. I'm tempted just to drink the clear crystal water as is, but caution wins out. This isn't like the water from home, who knows what the Gamemakers have put in there to make Tributes ill. So I capture some in my small flask, dropping in the water purifying tablet and set it down to wait.

It's pure chance that I look to the side as I wait, and see that the cliff that I'd just been looking at was not as sheer as I'd thought. From this angle, and this angle only I could see a thin stretch of flat rock, leading up the side and behind the sheet of falling water.

Curious, I tuck my pack under a bush and walk up the narrow slope. It's lucky I'm quite small, larger people would have much more difficulty navigating the thin path of rock. Stepping through the water, eyes closing, I open them again and gasp.

The path opens into a cave, a small cave hidden behind the sheeting water. A few small holes let sunlight in, and I walk over the soft sand, looking around me with delight.

This is…perfect.

Ducking outside once more, I pick my way down the path back to my supplies and carry them up into my new refuge.

Finding this relatively safe little haven buoys me, and I quickly set about getting my new home safe and defensible.

Unwinding the wire from my pack, I stretch part of it across the pathway up to my hideout, securing the two ends around two narrow rocks, creating a tripwire. Hopefully that would send an intruder off the path and if not it would slow them down and give me a chance to get away.

Pleased I walk into the trees and start setting up other snares and traps. My time in the snares station was not wasted, as I use my rope to create a net, using the reeds and rushes from around the lake. That would deal with some Tributes or large animals perhaps.

I also set up small noise traps, which would crack and rustle as people brush past them. I wouldn't hear them inside my cave, not over the roar of the falling water, but If I was out and checking my traps, or just outside in general, it would give me some warning.

By mid afternoon I feel safe enough in my little haven to strip down and dive into the lagoon, washing off the terror of yesterday, and letting the cool water soothe me.

Laying there, the sun on my face and the water lulling me, I feel at peace.

I feel at home.

The next day I leave my supplies in my haven and make my way back along the lake to the Career camp.

Teesa will be meeting me tomorrow to raid them again, but today I feel the need to watch, observe, and maybe learn something. While hiding out in my haven was nice, I felt my time could be better spent in reconnaissance.

So light and well fed and rested, I hurry through forests before slipping into the water. Swimming silently I come up near the Career camp, hidden by the thick rushes and reeds, as well as the copse of trees that hangs near the water. It is there that I slide out of the water, huddling down to watch the most dangerous people in this game so far.

They're all there, all five of them, and Peeta, and they also appear to have a young boy with them, and I vaguely recognise him as the fidgety one from District 3. He's working nearby, digging something up and I blink as he reaches into his hole, withdrawing a small metal device.

It's one of the plate mines; he's digging up the plate mines.

Bemused I watch for a while, seeing him playing with the wires, before I see the flash of lights along the side. He's reactivated it…and he carefully carries it over and reburies it near the supplies.

My mouth falls open.

They're booby trapping their supplies.

The tricky bastards.

My attention turns to Cato who is prowling around the meadow, ignoring the others who are lounging in the shade under the canopy they've created with some tarps. Clearly the cornucopia isn't a good shelter, and so they are sprawled out lazily on the grass. Glimmer is brushing out her long blonde hair, using a small comb that had obviously been part of the supplies at the cornucopia and Clove is nearby, studiously ignoring the vain Career girl. She's tossing her knives, tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth with concentration.

Peeta is lying on his back, arms behind his head, eyes closed, seemingly relaxed, but I doubt he's sleeping. How could he be? Surrounded by these people. One of whom had killed a little girl two nights ago.

My heart clenches and I push the thought away.

Darrien and Marvel sit together nearby, heads bowed together, talking softly, and I feel my lips curl up subconsciously at the sight. Darrien's face is relaxed, eyes closed, but Marvel's eyes are open, and the tenderness in those green hazel eyes humbles me.

Something changed yesterday; they hadn't been nearly as affectionate with each other before then. But now, now I can see Marvel's arm resting behind Darrien, protectively placed, and I can see his fingers gently stroking the side of Darrien's leg. And my District partner is leaning into it, completely at ease.

"You two are sickening." Cato's voice rings out, and my eyes snap to him standing out in the sunlight, golden hair shining and blue eyes almost glittering in the light, "You're meant to be Careers."

"Fuck off Cato," is Marvel's pithy response, "We're enjoying ourselves."

"We should be hunting down the other Tributes," Cato grumbles, glaring at the brown haired boy from 1, "Like Lover Boy's 'Girl On Fire'."

I see Peeta tense slightly, so much for pretending to be asleep.

"It's too hot Cato," Clove points out dryly, "We've been through this. Just because you're an overactive idiot who can't sit still for five minutes, that doesn't mean the rest of us don't deserve a little rest,"

"We haven't killed anyone in almost 2 days though," Glimmer points out, her husky voice carrying easily, "Not since that stupid girl with the fire."

Zara, I think, fists clenching in the grass.

"Exactly." Cato points his sword at Glimmer, "If we aren't providing the entertainment, the Gamemakers will, and we won't like their idea of entertainment."

"We can handle it." Marvel rolls his eyes, "We've got this Cato."

"Who's left anyway?" Clove asks, rolling onto her belly, "That brute from 11…"

"Girl on fire," Glimmer sneers, pulling a face, "I'd like her dead sooner rather than later if you please."

"The little girl from 11," Darrien points out softly, blue eyes opening, "Rue,"

"The seven of us," Marvel contributes, counting on his fingers, "That's ten."

"The boy from 10," Clove interjects, "The one with the bad foot, I'm amazed he's done so well."

"Eleven," Glimmer muses, "Two more."

"Schuyler," Cato's voice breaks into the discussion, striding over, mouth set, "She's out there somewhere."

"Any idea's where?" Clove asks Darrien, a sly smile on her lips, "She would be easy enough to get out of the way."

Darrien frowns but surprisingly it's Cato who shakes his head.

"No. She's not our concern yet."

"She's a Tribute," Glimmer scoffs softly, "What are we going to just let her go when we catch her?"

"We're not seeking her out!" Cato's voice rises slightly, "And that's the end of it! Besides, she's my kill."

"You never did know how to share," Clove drawls, giving her District partner a look, "But if you are sure she's the one you want. I want 11, the male naturally."

"I want the Girl on Fire," Glimmer perks up, "Showing us all up like that…" she doesn't even look at Peeta, but I do, and I see the tense, angry set of his jaw. He won't just let Glimmer kill Katniss.

"Aw you've left me a baby, a cripple and…who the hell is the other one?" Marvel ponders, "Who's the last one?"

They consider and I hide a grin.

"Oh!" Darrien, snaps his fingers, "The redhead from 5."

A chorus of aahs come up from the group and they all settle down again. Marvel lies down on the grass but this time Darrien doesn't follow him, instead his eyes stay on Cato. Eventually he gets up and nudges the other boy and they start walking towards me, towards the lake.

I flatten myself in the long grass, and stay very still as the two young men walk down to the edge of the water.

"Darrien." Cato says, voice bored.

"Cato." Darrien's voice is steady, and I lift my head slightly to look up at them, "Why?"

"Why what?" Cato's stance is deliberately nonchalant.

"Why Sky?" Darrien, folds his arms, his face frowning, "I mean, I just don't get why you're so determined for her to be your kill when 12…"

"We said we'd leave her for later, there are six Tributes besides us, the pickings are getting slim Darrien." Cato shrugs.

"You're seriously going to kill off Sky while that twitchy kid from 3 is still living? While Peeta still lives?"

"Peeta is part of the pack," Cato leans in, a smirk curling up his handsome mouth, "You wanted him in, remember Darrien."

"We could have used Sky," Darrien begins.

"Hah!" Cato snorts, "She'd throw up every kill we made."

Darrien shakes his head at him. "Laugh it up, but I think going after Sky is a big mistake."

"We're not going after her," Cato nods towards the lake and I feel my heart dropping slightly, "For example, I'm sure your water girl is somewhere near the lake or the river out there. And yet you'll notice all of the hunting parties I've led out have gone out into the forest. It's not a coincidence 4, use your head."

Darrien frowns, "Then you're protecting her? You want to kill her but you're protecting her? Why?"

Cato doesn't answer, and I feel my heart thundering in my chest.

"Cato," Darrien asks, "Why…."

"Just drop it." Cato growls at him finally, turning back to the camp, "Just rest easier knowing I'm not hunting her down…yet."

"Fine," Darrien sighs, "Just…don't okay?"

The two boys walk back up to the camp, Darrien splitting from Cato to flop back down next to Marvel who gives him a small, relieved smile. Just before I look away I see Marvel's hand hesitantly taking Darrien's in his, and Darrien's fingers gently curling around his in return.

Then I'm watching Cato. Cato who is looking out at the lake, at the river, with a small frown on his face.

And not for the first time I wish that I knew what he was thinking.

I get home and manage to catch a fish for dinner.

I cook it away from my camp, using dry tinder, no green anywhere, so as to minimise smoke. But the instant it's cooked I shift to eat elsewhere.

I'm reminded of an old story from one of my old books. An old celtic legend of two lovers fleeing from sight, and the advice the magical godfather gave them.

Do not eat your food in the same place you cook it; do not sleep in the same place you eat.

Sound advice, I decide, and smirk in amusement.

And Cato thought stories wouldn't help me in the Arena.

It's as I'm picking my way home, that I hear the soft bell tinkling of a sponsor gift. I follow the sound and find a small capsule, emblazoned with the number 4.

Smiling I open it, and gasp as it reveals a thin, dark almost wetsuit.

A note flutters out of the container and down onto the ground and I scoop it up.

'Finnick is always right, always listen to Finnick. Swim well. – F' is all it says and I roll my eyes at the sky.

"You're an ass Finnick Odair." I say, and grin as I imagine him laughing.

Carrying my treasure away I hum contentedly as I pick my way up to my warm, dry cave, and settle myself down on the flat rock shelf I've claimed as my bed.

It's been an interesting day, and my mind slowly turns over everything I've heard before I drift off to sleep.

The next day I find Teesa back at our grove of trees near the Career camp.

"Happy Hunger games," she greets me wryly, "So far the odds have been in our favour."

"That can change quick as blinking." I point out, crawling in to lay beside her on my belly, "Eleven dead."

"I saw the girl from 8 in the sky," Teesa's voice is soft, and when I glance at her, I see her dark brown eyes are looking at me, rather than at the Careers, "After you raced into the forest…was she the one who screamed?"

I swallow, and nod slowly.

"Yeah, Zara."

"I'm sorry." She said, but her voice sounds more tired than sympathetic, "But sadly that is the nature of the game."

"Yeah," I sigh, "The Careers will go hunting this afternoon," It's my turn to deflect a painful conversation towards our common goal, "And keep away from the right hand side of the supplies."

"Mines?" I blink at her, and she smirks, "I have been observing too you know."

"I am not surprised," I chuckle.

Together the two of us lay there until Marvel whoops suddenly, pointing somewhere out into the forest. I glance around and gasp at the sight of smoke, lots of smoke curling up through the trees. That is not the fire of a campfire…that is a forest fire, and I'm reminded of Cato's words yesterday about how if the Careers weren't providing the entertainment then the Gamemakers would. Clearly this was that.

They grab their weapons, and send 3 to continue digging up mines, and disappear into the trees. For a moment I feel a pang of pity, knowing that there will be a Tribute, or Tributes caught in that fire, and that they will be sent straight to the Careers.

But Zara forces me to focus on the here and know, as the two of us slip from hiding, dashing lightly into the clearing and behind the pile of supplies. The poor kid from 3 never even knew we were there.

As I'm making my way back to my little cave, with a pack full of supplies and feeling pretty good about myself, I hear the Careers shouting and jeering.

Instantly I dart into the cover of the trees and creep closer. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, and with the Careers it's always better to be forearmed. So I pad lightly through the trees, keeping low, until I see the Careers clustered around the base of a thick, strong looking tree.

They are circling it, like a pack of hungry wolves, but it's the fact that Peeta is standing back, with a tense unhappy expression on his face, that alerts me to who is up the tree.

Sure enough, I can pick out the shape of Katniss up in the branches, glaring down at them all. None of the others seem to want to climb up after her, so for the moment it appears to be a stalemate.

She's in no immediate danger, I decide, right now my concern should be that they are closer to my hideaway than ever before. I'll need to be quiet, and cautious, and get back there now.

So I ease back and circle around them, running quietly through the trees, avoiding the leaves and my concealed noise traps until I reach the waterfall and duck up into my home.

I stand for a moment in the centre of the cave, and then I unpack my supplies, thinking furiously.

I'll check on them tomorrow, I decide, and see if there is anything I can do to help Peeta, and therefore by extension, Katniss, without getting my ass handed to me by an angry Career pack.

Tomorrow I think, and settle down to eat a small raw meal of vegetables and protein bars.

I can't risk a fire. Not with the Careers so close.

I finish eating and lay down, curling up on my flat rock. It's the first time they've ever been close to my hideout, and I can't say I like the feeling.

But I can't do anything about it until tomorrow.

Even so, a little after dawn, I'm awake once more, eyes wide.

Because a cannon has boomed across the Arena, and I can hear screaming.

And it's getting louder.

Chapter Text

For a moment I am frozen, laying on my flat rock, eyes wide open as I blink towards the entrance to my cave, past the rushing water.

The screaming is loud, and wild, and seems to come from a number of throats, and my first instinct is to stay where I am, hunker down, and don't get in the way.

But then I think of Peeta, how he had done what I couldn't for Zara, how he had been a friend to me. What if he was out there, screaming, in agony, and I didn't even move to help? That wasn't me.

Mind made up I get to my feet, pulling on my sturdy, but by now broken in and softening, boots on as I hurry out of my makeshift home. Picking around my traps I head into the cover of the thick trees and run towards the tree where Katniss had been trapped.

The screaming still rings around in the forest, but its not too close, until I stumble over the corpse of Glimmer, the beautiful girl from District 1.

My stomach rolls at the sight of her body, mangled with stings and leaking fluids.

But she is not my principle focus.

Katniss is tugging the bow and quiver from her, swaying almost drunkenly, a few sting wounds of her own swelling up on her olive skin. Her grey eyes are unfocused but she manages to get the weapons away from the dead girl and list to the side.

"Katniss!" Peeta barrels into the clearing, dripping wet, and his own stings on his skin. His blue eyes are almost wild as he sees her there, as though he'd been hoping she'd be gone, "What are you doing here! Get out of here! Go!"

Katniss stares at him, eyes not really focusing on him and doesn't move.

"Go!" He shoves at her with his spear, "Go!"

I move forward to help when I hear someone else crashing through the trees and Cato, wild, stung like the others, and furious, stumbles into view, his sword gleaming in his hand.

"Go!" Peeta shouts it at Katniss, and something lights in her eyes, some kind of understanding and she scrambles away, leaving her partner, Peeta, facing off against the most deadly Tribute in the Games.

It's hardly a grand showdown, both of them are swaying, the stings affecting them both and I creep forward.

I know the wounds; there are enough tracker jacker nests near District 4 that everyone knows what the wounds look like, and how to treat them. I also know about the hallucinations and the searing pain along nerves that both of them must be feeling right now.

"Traitor!" Cato spits it at Peeta, voice rough and with a hint of wildness to it. The venom is loosening his control, and his most basic instincts are guiding him now, along with paranoia and fury, "We took you in."

"You wanted her dead," Peeta backs up, spear wavering as he tries to level it at Cato, "I couldn't let that happen."

"Is it worth it?" Cato jeers back, "Knowing you're going to die, right now?"

"She's safe from you." Peeta's smile is grim, but his eyes are terrified, "That's all I wanted."

Cato lunges and I race out from my cover, darting in to grab Peeta, yanking him away from the Career who has crumpled to the forest floor.

I stare at him, breathing heavily as I realise the venom must have taken its toll on the young man. Unconsciousness is a common reaction to tracker jacker stings, and it means that Peeta and I have time to get away.

Except…Peeta has crumpled too, and he's whimpering in pain. My eyes widen in horror as I see the terrible wound across his thigh, blood everywhere and his face paling rapidly.

"No…no…" my hands flutter as I drop down beside him, "If I hadn't been such a coward, Peeta…"

His eyes are closed and his breathing is shallow, as I shed my jacket. The inside is fabric even as the outside layer is insulation, so I grab Cato's sword from nearby and quickly slice it open, tearing the fabric inner liner away and wrapping it around his thigh, a makeshift bandage.

"I have…to find Katniss," Peeta's voice is weak but his blue eyes, when they open and eventually focus on me are determined, "She'll go…to water."

"The Careers will be at the lake." I warn him, pressing on the wound, "And I'm not leaving you like this."

"Yes you are…" he smiles at me sadly, "Sorry…"

I'm about to ask, 'for what?' when the world goes dark.

The first thing I notice, as I come to, is the deep throbbing pain in my head.

Peeta is gone, but the ground that I touch, where he'd lain after Cato wounded him is still warm. My eyes open and I wince as I look around me, focusing on the lump of wood lying beside me. Peeta knocked me out. Unbelievable.

Slowly I sit up, and my attention turns towards Cato, still sprawled on the ground where he'd fallen. My attention, at first captured by Peeta's injury, now turns to him. He is unmoving, laying there on the hard, cold earth and I glance towards the woods.

Peeta is no longer my concern, I decide, and leave my ruined jacket where it is as I crawl over to him, hesitant, because even incapacitated by tracker jackers, Cato is dangerous. I can't leave him here, not if he's still alive.

Fingers shaking I press them against the warm skin of his neck, and sigh with relief as I feel his pulse thumping reassuringly against them.

That leaves me with a sticky problem though. The problem of what to do with him?

I have three options, I decide, sitting beside him and cradling my aching head in my hands.

One, I leave him here, for whatever animals, tributes or whatever to find him. Tracker Jacker stings can last for days, especially untreated ones, so leaving him here, is practically a death sentence without wielding the blade myself.

Two, I kill him. He's the most dangerous fighter in the Games, and with him dead the odds of my own survival are guaranteed. A part of me knows this is the most sensible option, Teesa would take it in a heartbeat, as would most of the other Tributes.

But…I am no killer. I could not even kill Zara when she was suffering in my arms. I do not have it in me to cold heartedly plunge his own sword into his chest.

Three, I help him. The problem is that I know this is the only option I will be able to live with. Cato didn't hunt me down, for whatever reason. He's a fighter, someone bred for the Games, for him to die here, killed by a coward's hand, and unconscious…it's wrong.

"I'm going to take care of you," I whisper, my hand reaching out and hesitantly brushing a leaf from his fair hair, "Even though I'm sure Finnick is about to throw a fit that I'm not taking this opportunity."

Now the decision is made it becomes a matter of getting him back to the cave. He's heavy, and much larger than me, and carrying his bulk will be an impossible feat. I'm built for speed, not strength.

"How am I going to move you?" I breathe, looking around me, "I'm going to have to make some kind of litter…"

I can't just take care of him here, this is exposed and with the nights getting colder and colder, and with Tributes still prowling the forests…and the fact that I'm no warrior, so if someone did attack us…I'd die, and then he would be summarily executed.

It's not what I'm hoping for.

I stand and dart off to find a pair of thick branches, taking them back to where he lies, before racing to the bushes and collecting a bunch of them to tie to the branches. I use reeds from the lake to bind them all together and then roll him onto the makeshift sledge.

"You owe me," I grunt at him as I grab the reed ropes and begin to pull, "You owe me big time…"

Its mid morning by the time I collapse in my cave, sweating and exhausted from hauling the larger boy up into my hideaway.

The sledge was too wide to fit up the path, naturally, so I'd been forced to race up into the cave, grabbing a thin sheet of plastic I'd gotten in my pack, and used it to drag it up into the shelter.

But even as I gasp for breath I crawl over to him, tugging out the plastic from under him, and covering him. It's pitiful, but we're in the Hunger Games, luxury is unknown here. Carefully I pick out the tracker jacker stingers, the one from the swelling on his cheek, and the ones dotted across his arms and neck.

Good, no more toxin will be pumping into him now, and I get up onto my feet and head back outside.

There I dismantle the sledge and scatter the components, before using one of the branches to go back the way I'd dragged him, erasing all tracks of our passage.

I have to be cautious.

On the way I gather a large number of dark green plants growing at the base of trees, these will draw the poison from his body, and help him recover faster.

Pleased I head back to the refuge and use the stripped sledge, reed ropes to gently bind the leaves to the boy's stings.

I tuck a pile of the remaining into a cool damp corner to keep there, and take the rest with me, as I leave the cave.

Cato is as safe as I can make him.

Now my concern is Darrien.

I'm sure that if Glimmer, Peeta and Cato were stung then Clove, Darrien and Marvel were as well.

I jog through the forests, towards the main body of the lake.

Voices reach my ears as I near the cornucopia and I slow down, padding silently closer to peer around it at the remaining Careers, lying broodingly in the lake.

None of them are badly stung, I notice, watching as Darrien and Marvel strap leaves and lake mud to the stings. Clove is rubbing mud onto her own stings and pulling a face as the weedy boy from three hesitantly straps a leaf to a red sting on her neck.

"So fire-girl escaped," Clove spits, "I'm guessing Lover boy helped her."

"Glimmer's dead," Darrien winces as Marvel plucks out a sting, "No idea where the fuck Cato is."

"He was stung pretty badly," Marvel points out, "And he went off after Lover Boy and Fire girl."

"No cannon fire for him," Clove tosses her head, "So he's not dead."

"He hasn't made it back," Darrien points out, "Should we go look for him?"

"No," Marvel and Clove answer together.

"Career law," Marvel explains as Darrien looks at him confused, "I'm surprised your mentor didn't tell you about it."

"You can't keep up," Clove uses one of her slender daggers to prise out another sting; "The pack kills you before you become a liability."

"It keeps us safe," Marvel shakes his head, "And if Cato makes it back…well that's brilliant because the more of us here the better chances we have to hunt the rest of them down. If not…then he's not a Career, he's just another Tribute."

"Law of the wild." Clove's smile is vicious, "Cato knows it, and would have done the same if it were one of us. He comes back he's our leader again. If not…then we end him like we would anyone else."

Slowly I draw back and take off back towards my cave, my heart pounding.

Suddenly I'm glad that I was the one to find him.

The next day is a slow one as I tend to Cato, changing his leaves and dripping purified water into his mouth to keep him hydrated.

I don't venture far from my hideaway, just far enough to gather some of the rich fleshy tubers and some more of the leaves needed for Cato's wounds.

Around mid afternoon I am alerted to the soft chime of a sponsor gift, and I leave the lake, where I had been unsuccessfully fishing to catch the capsule, emblazoned with the large 4.

Inside is a thick blanket and another note from Finnick.

'You're killing me here sweet cheeks. If he kills you I'm never talking to you again. Keep him warm. – F'

I snort at it, and grin up at the sky.

"You're still an ass," I tell the empty blue expanse, and head back to the cave where I gently wrap him up in the warm blanket.

After I eat my supper I consider the boy laying on the floor of the cave, wrapped up warmly and face seemingly peaceful in sleep.

Slowly, I stroke his hair once more, brushing a few stray long hairs out of his eyes.

"I have to hope there is more to you." I tell him softly, "I have to hope Finnick and I are right…or else tomorrow is going to be a very short day for me."

Day 7 of my time in the arena dawns and I head out early, heading for the Career camp.

Halfway there I glance to the side and bite down a yelp as I realise Teesa is strolling easily beside me.

"Dammit all!" I hiss at her as she grins broadly, "I told you, don't DO that!"

"Your reaction makes doing it far too much fun," Teesa chuckles dryly, before her face sobers, "The Careers have been pretty much incapacitated, but they are sticking to the cornucopia. We may not be able to raid them."

"Last I saw they'd been stung," I glance at her, "How are they doing?"

"Clove is twitchier than a wildcat on a hot tin roof," Teesa snorts softly; "She's itching to just get out there and slaughter anyone she can find. But the venom has laid them low." Her eyes slide to my slyly, "So Katniss dropped a tracker-jacker nest on them?"

"Apparently," I shrug, "It killed Glimmer, and she got her bow and arrows. I don't know if she can use them."

"And no one knows where Peeta is, or Cato." She eyes me, "Any ideas? You were friendly with him in training."

I arch an eyebrow at her.

"Peeta," she clarifies, a smirk on her lips, "Naturally."

"Naturally," I say, heart picking up a bit of speed. Teesa really is far too observant for comfort, "I haven't seen him."

"Hmm." She muses as we approach our grove of trees, "I'm sure he'll turn up."

We peer through thick fronds at the Careers, seeing them prowling around their shelter restlessly.

"Let's go hunt." Clove's voice is harsh as she throws a dagger into the ground an inch from Marvel's eye, "Fire girl was stung too. We could find her and end her now!"

"And take the risk of getting slaughtered?" Marvel hisses back, fingers straying towards his spear, "You're a fool."

"Who are you calling foolish!" Clove yells it at him, her fingers twitching towards her daggers, "You who have just been canoodling with Darrien for the whole games!"

"I killed more tributes than you!"

"Enough!" Darrien steps between them, blue eyes flashing, "The two of you stop that now! Fighting amongst ourselves is a waste of time. Clearly Cato isn't coming back, which means we've lost some serious intimidation factor. The last thing we need is to be divided." He looks at Clove, "I know you're bored, and all you want is to get out there…but we're no good if we're weak enough to be picked off. And you," he looks at Marvel, "Stop antagonising her you ass. You could use a bit of her ambition."

The two glare at him, and then at one another before Clove shrugs her shoulders, rather like an irritable cat.

"Fine. I'm going to train. Coming Darrien?"

"Sure," the black haired boy moved over to Marvel, crouching beside him and pressing a light kiss to the corner of his mouth, whispering something before standing and following the smaller girl off towards some scattered trees.

Marvel watches them go and lies back with a gusty sigh.

The boy from 3 watches him anxiously and then goes back to his work, looking pale.

"He said 'Play nice,'" Teesa whispers to me, and I glance at her, eyebrow raised, "Darrien, he said 'play nice' to Marvel."

"Oh right," I remember her lip reading, "Sounds like him. And it looks like we won't be able to get in there today."

"No," she frowns, "We can handle it. I'll see you tomorrow?"

I nod, "See you then."

And we part, this time empty handed.

I get back to the cave, picking my way up into the dark interior, and the first thing I notice is that Cato is no longer laying where I left him.

My heart lurches in fear and I take a single step forward.

Only to feel cold steel press to the side of my neck.

"Well, well…" his voice is low, behind me, as he steps closer from his hiding place in the shadows, his blade against my throat, "If it isn't the little fish."

"Cato," I lick my lips nervously, throat swallowing reflexively, "Let me explain…"

"Please do," his voice is forcibly calm, "Please explain how the last thing I remember is that piece of shit Lover-boy with a spear levelled at me, and then I wake up here, wherever the fuck here is. I'm sure it's a simply fascinating story."

I let out a breath and turn slightly so I can see him, blue eyes smouldering as he looks at me.

"You passed out…after injuring Peeta." I say softly, swallowing again, mouth dry, "i…brought you here."

"Why?" his sword digs into my skin and I wince.

"You were sick," My voice shakes slightly, "The tracker jacker stings…"

"It doesn't explain why you helped me!" he roars, and suddenly the blade is gone from my neck and he whirls me around, his hand gripping my throat like it did in the training centre, "What do you want?"

"I couldn't leave you there…" I whisper, wincing as my hands come up to grip his wrist, "Cato please, I'm not your enemy!"

"Everyone is the enemy," he tightens his hand, "You've forgotten that we're in the Hunger Games little fish? I warned you what would happen if our paths crossed."

"I saved you!" I cry out, trying to hit out at him, "You ungrateful ass!"

"What makes you think I needed your help!? I'm a tribute from District 2! I was born for this!" He throws me to the side and I roll across the sandy ground, scrambling up as I draw my shortsword. His blue eyes stare at me and then he snorts, "Put that down, you look ridiculous."

"I'm not dying without a weapon in my hands," I pant, feeling adrenaline and fear pumping through me, "I haven't survived this long to just…"

He walks forward and I swing at him wildly. He parries it easily and with a twist of his wrist my blade goes flying out through the waterfall.

I back up against the wall as he keeps walking forward and I close my eyes, squeezing them shut as I look away, sure that in a moment I'll feel the burn of a sword through my belly.

"Stop that," his voice is calmer but still rough, "Schuyler."

My eyes open at his use of my name and I blink at him. He's looking at me with an intense look on his face and I swallow again.

"Cato…" I say warily, "What…"

"I'm not going to kill you." He sighs, sheathing his sword, "I owe you, much as I hate to admit it. A life for a life. I'll save your hide, and then we'll be even and I can claim your kill."

"So, you're going to keep me alive…just so you can save me from someone else…so you can kill me yourself?" I ask, confused.

"I'm not without honour." He growls at me, "I save you. We're even. And then we go back to how we were before. Which means I kill you."

I stare at him, "So…now what?" I ask, hesitantly.

He gives me an inscrutable look and reaches out to tug the pack from my shoulder, tossing it to the floor.

"Now," he says, moving away, still a touch wobbly on his feet I notice now that I'm less terrified, "You tell me what you have to eat. I'm famished."

I give a surprised bark of laughter, and I see his lips curl up slightly in response before he shrugs, face impassive once more.

I collect some foods and we eat in silence, watching each other warily.

The day has one final surprise for me though as I slide onto my rock ledge, curling up there. The surprise is the warm presence suddenly at my back, and I twist slightly in the gloom of the night time cave to see his eyes gleaming at me.

Slowly, as though daring me to say anything he tugs my blanket over both of us, and then slowly wraps his arms around me, tugging me back against his chest, his face burrowing into my neck.

"Cato…" I whisper, "What?"

"Shut up," he rumbles it softly, "Just go to sleep little fish. You're safe with me for now. I swear."

"You're a very strange boy," I murmur, but I relax in his arms. I'm rewarded by a pleased hum from him, and his arms tightening protectively.

I lay awake, listening to the sounds of his breathing, but soon enough I'm lulled by the deep thumping of his heart through his shirt against my back, and the warmth of him surrounding me.

Truly comfortable, and questioning my sanity, I slowly fall asleep.

Chapter Text

"So what do you do in your District?" Cato asks me the next morning as we eat our meagre breakfast of tubers and the vegetables Teesa and I had managed to pilfer from his Career supplies.

I glance up to find his intensely blue eyes on my face, expectantly waiting for an answer.

"I look after the archives," I say softly, popping another piece of carrot into my mouth, "It's a repository of books and texts."

"You and your books," He lets out a bark of laughter, and shakes his head, "Is that why you were reading that day back in the Capitol?"

"There is nothing wrong with books and knowledge," I bite back at him, bristling slightly, "Even stories can teach us things."

He chuckles, and tosses a chunk of tuber up into the air, deftly spearing it on his sword, "Sure they can sweetheart."

"You are…infuriating." I inform him and roll my eyes as he laughs.

"So you look after dusty books," he leans back, grinning as he chews on his last tuber, "Aren't you District 4's supposed to be fishermen?"

"That is our primary industry," I nod, finishing my own meal, "Almost everyone works on the sea."

"But not you," he considers me, head tilting to the side, "Why don't you?"

"Because I work in the Archives," I look away from him, trying for nonchalance.

"There's more to the story than that." Cato's sword reaches out and lightly pokes my arm, not breaking the skin, "You can trust me little fish."

"Hah!" I snort grinning despite myself, "No. Thanks."

He winks at me and barks a short deep laugh.

It's the first time I think I've ever actually seen him relaxed, and it's the longest period of time we've ever spent together without fighting or him trying to intimidate me into submission. He's almost pleasant like this, which is surprising to me.

"What about you?" I ask, leaning back against the stone, and watching him comfortably, "What did you do in your District?"

He spreads his arms, "This!" he says, mouth curling bitterly, "The Hunger Games. Bringing pride to my District." He pauses and his eyes find mine once more, "The lessons never mentioned getting my ass saved by a girl I've been threatening to kill though."

"I don't think it's something that happens too often." I say softly, shrugging slightly, "But then I don't think tracker jacker nests being dropped on the Career pack is something regular either."

Cato's face hardens slightly, "She got away, didn't she, fire girl?" I nod and he growls softly, "She's going to pay for that. For Glimmer, and the stings. And Lover boy too for being a traitorous little shit…" he scowls down at his hands which clench, "That would have been the worst."

"What?" I say softly, curious.

"Going out like that, without fighting…If I die, I want to die fighting." His blue eyes slowly lift to meet mine, "That's why I owe you. You gave me a chance to win, to bring pride to my District or to die with my sword in my hand, fighting, rather than being killed because a bitch dropped a nest of bugs."

"You don't owe me." I say softly, surprised by his words, "It wasn't even a choice for me…I couldn't just…leave you there."

"You didn't want to leave me there?"

"It was an option," I smile slightly, "But I knew it wasn't one I could live with. There was only ever one real choice for me."

He snorts softly, shaking his head, "They told us what we would likely face, the likely Tributes we'd meet. They never mentioned anyone like you."

I give him a tiny smile, "I guess I'm just special like that."

He doesn't reply, but just watches me thoughtfully as we lapse into silence.

He follows me as I do my daily round of checking my traps and snares, and I'm concerned that his eyebrow may disappear into his hairline, considering how high it's lifting.

"Stop that," I mutter at him as I check the net trap, "I can feel you judging me."

"Sweetheart," he laughs leaning back against a tree, "I'm amazed."

I glance at him again and then back at my work, "Are you mocking me again?"

"Not at all," he walks over to me, his arms reaching around either side to help with the knots, his bulk a warm solid presence behind me, "This is fascinating."

"Cato," I determinedly focus on my work, trying to ignore his warm earthy scent and the warmth of him at my back, solid and strong, "What are you doing?"

"Helping," he breathes against my neck, "Why?"

"Because you're annoying me," I growl back, jerking my elbow back against him, "Back up."

"So prickly," he laughs, but steps back a pace, "I thought you were completely useless, little fish, but you'll be glad to know all this is revising my opinion of you."

"I'm delighted," I bite my lip as I tug on the rope, winding it around a stick once more; "Suddenly my life is complete."

I turn away from the stick and gasp as suddenly he's there in front of me, and backs me up against the tree trunk.

"Are you getting sassy with me sweetheart?" he asks, mouth curling up slightly, and blue eyes dancing, "My, my, you are full of surprises."

"Stop that," I try to slide away from him, but am trapped as his arms come up, boxing me in between his bulk and the tree, "Cato!"

"Schuyler!" he mocks back, and laughs again, a booming laugh, "Stop bristling those little fins of yours at me."

"Stop patronising me!"

"Stop assuming things." He leans in until our noses are a mere inch apart, "I'm not mocking you."

"Stop-" I begin, but the retort is cut off as his lips find mine.

He tastes like the food we shared for breakfast, like tubers and vegetables, but underneath it is something warm and comfortable, something rash and bold and exciting, something I've never tasted before but can't get enough of. Despite myself I lean into the kiss, and I feel his chest rumble as my hands come up to grip his shoulders.

Our mouths move together as he presses me back against the tree, pinning me there with his strength and the hungry, magnetic quality of his kisses. He's intoxicating, my nerves firing throughout my body as his large, strong hands curl around the curve of my lower back, splaying there to hold me against him.

The gesture is possessive and protective, and I gasp against his mouth. The groan I get in return fires something in me, something smouldering and passionate and I can feel my heartbeat racing.

Finally our lips break apart, it's that or pass out, but he doesn't pull back. Instead that clever, infuriating mouth finds my neck, kissing and biting there and the soft, choked moan that leaves my throat is almost embarrassing.

"Cato," I gasp out, my brain swimming, "Cato…."

"Don't tell me to stop," he groans it against my neck, his lips pressed to the thundering of my pulse, his favourite place on my body, "You don't want me to stop."


He pulls back with an almost pained growl and strides away, hands raking through his hair, leaving me leaning weakly against the tree trying to gather my scrambling thoughts. He's just as shaken as I am by the turbulent emotions we'd both succumbed to, and despite his passionate words I think both of us were torn by the animalistic hunger we'd both felt.

He looks back at me, and groans, his blue eyes darkened with arousal, "Fuck, Schuyler stop looking at me like that."

"Like what?" I ask breathlessly, contemplating trying to peel my boneless body away from the tree, "I'm just standing here."

"Stop looking at me like….that." He waves a hand towards me, and runs his hands through his hair again, "You're….driving me mad."

"Me?" I laugh almost hysterically, "You're the one constantly in my space, being all physical."

"This is some kind of mind game isn't it?" His face darkens, and suddenly he's threatening. I haven't been afraid of him all day, but a switch has flipped and suddenly I know that I'm in danger, "You're doing this on purpose! Getting in my head!"

"What are you talking about?" I edge around the tree keeping my eyes on him, "Cato…"

Suddenly he is there and he pins me once more, but this time I know he could kill me in a moment. My breath shudders in my throat and my eyes find his, wide and helpless.

"Is this your plan?" he asks me, voice bitter and cruel, "Distract me with your body and maybe I'll let you live?"

My eyes widen even more and a trickle of indignation spikes through the fear.

"You know it's not." I hiss back, "Or did you forget the slap I gave you when you tried to suggest I fuck my way through the games with you?"

He hesitates, but then his eyes narrow once more, "You're safe enough without me here. Here is how I'll repay my debt. I won't tell the other Careers about your little camp. We won't hunt you down. We're done."

And without another word he turns around and stomps towards the lake, towards the Careers.

Leaving me, leaning against the tree, stomach twisted in terrible knots, and a lead weight resting in my chest.

Where had all of that gone so wrong…?

When I get home it's to find a small grey capsule falling from the sky, with a large number 4 on its side.

Its perfect timing and I smile as I run for it, snatching it up eagerly and tugging out the note. For me the notes are the precious part of the gift, words from Finnick. Even the thought of him gives me a warm safe feeling, and I unfold the note eagerly.

'Remember what I said love, District 2 are emotionally constipated. Don't give up on him just yet – F'

I chuckle weakly and open the small metal container, which I discover is full of chocolate. I know what it means, it means the sponsors are trying to comfort me, so I look up at the sky and whisper, "Thank you."

I eat a small piece and then head up into my cave wondering if Cato will keep his promise, if Finnick is right and he'll return, or if he truly considers us square and even and kills me next time we meet.

I curl up on my ledge, wrapped up in my blanket, and I can't help but miss his solid warmth, even as I breathe in his scent on the blanket I clutch so tightly.

The water is cool over my skin and I sigh with pleasure as I drift in the pale dawn light.

After a restless night I'd woken this morning with a desperate need for the feeling of water on my skin, to feel the calming, lulling tranquillity that only swimming and tending to my books gives me. So here I am, drifting in the dawn, dressed in the slim wetsuit that Finnick sent me.

Slowly I can feel the weight from yesterday's confrontation with Cato slipping away, the soothing water lapping around me, carrying me through the quiet lagoon as I smile up at the dawn sky.

It's the perfect start to the day.

Slowly I pick my way out of the lake, my fingers reaching up to squeeze my thick hair, heavy with water, and then I freeze as a figure walks out of the trees, facing me.

It's not Peeta. It's not Darrien. It's not Marvel or Clove.

And it's not Cato.

It's the boy from District 10, the one with the bad foot, and he holds a large machete in one hand, a spear in the other, eyes wild.

Something about him is off, and as I take a slow step back towards the water I realise that his eyes are fevered, crazy. There is no reason in them; there will be no pleading, or forgiveness that I can give that will stay his hand.

"Another one bites the dust," his voice is scratchy, hoarse with something, and he steps forward, his spear levelled at me, "One less to worry about."

I step back, and then turn, diving for the water, but he's faster.

His spear flashes through the air and sheers through my calf, and into the lakeshore earth, pinning me there like a butterfly on a card.

I scream, I can't help it, the pain is greater than anything I've ever felt in my life and then next moment he's on top of me, his machete at my throat, eyes crazed and above me.

"They'll love this…" he jeers over my sobbing screams, and his hands close around my throat, "The water girl, killed by her own element. So fitting."

"No-" I gasp out, but only get a chance to suck in a last gulp of air before he shoves my head under the water.

I struggle, I thrash wildly like the fish Cato named me, I writhe under his unyielding hands as the world narrows around me in terror.

It's the first time water has not been my ally; my whole life water has protected me, sheltered me, provided me and my family with food and produce, but now it's around me, and my lungs are bursting.

I have to breathe! I have to breathe!

My mind is screaming at me, and my body jerks under his hold, trying desperately to get away.

His fist punches into my belly, and my mouth explodes open, the last little bit of precious air leaving my throat as water rushes in.

I'm going to die. I realise, as the world slowly becomes dark, the night creeping in from the outsides towards the centre of my vision, I'm going to die like this.

I let my body go limp and then there is peace.

I wake up.

That in itself is a surprise, an incredibly pleasant one. I'd been so sure of my imminent death, so sure that my last moments were going to be in the lagoon of the place I'd made my home in this Arena.

But I wake up.

Slowly my senses seem to return to me, first my hearing, and I can hear the reassuring roar of the waterfall, the dripping of water on rough stone. I can smell the damp, the scent of my blanket, the traces of food.

I open my eyes, blinking around the cave, wondering how I got up here.

"You're awake."

I gasp and look around again, but this time my eyes pick him out from where he is standing in the shadows by the mouth of the cave. His arms are folded and his face is in shadow, but I can see his blue eyes glittering as he looks at me.

"Cato." I rasp, slowly pushing myself upright and feeling my head and leg throb, "What are you doing here? What happened?"

"I was…coming to check on you." He speaks roughly, shoulders tensing unhappily, "I heard…I heard you scream…"

"You saved me?" I feel a rush of something, but push it down hurriedly, remembering his obsession with paying back his debt to me, "Thank you."

"I thought you were dead," he walks forward a pace, into the half light, and I can see his blue eyes are almost fevered in his face, "I thought…I thought I was too late."

"You almost were…." I say weakly, fingers gripping at the blanket, "Thank you Cato."

"He's dead." I look up at him again, eyes wide, "I made sure of that."

"Cato you…"

"I did." He cuts me off, stepping forward again, "I did have to."

"The Games unhinged him…" I say softly, shivering as I remember the wild, mad look in his eyes, "I can't…hate him for that."

"I can." Cato strides forward a few more paces and crouches down by the makeshift bed, his hands gripping mine, "You're mine. And he almost took you from me."

"So you saved me to kill me yourself?" I remember his words from the day before yesterday, his vow that once his debt was complete, my life was forfeit to him, "You're no better than him."

"No!" His hand comes up and grips the back of my neck, holding me still as I struggle, weak as a kitten, "Don't say that! I won't kill you. Not yet, I won't kill you yet."

"But you will." My eyes drift closed.

"Someone will." His voice is hoarse, "Wouldn't you rather it was me? Who will make it a death worthy of being remembered?"

"I don't want to die at all!" I shout but my voice is weak, reed thin, "I don't want to die at all!"

"This is the Hunger Games!" He growls it back at me, hands coming up to grip my shoulders, shaking me, "I can't be Victor if you still breathe, that's just…that's just how it is."

There is no argument I can give to that, so I just look away from him.

"I'm not going to just let you kill me,"

He makes a low sound of exasperation, and suddenly his hands are cupping my face, turning me back to face him.

His eyes are warm, exasperated, but there is pain there too,

"You are the most infuriating woman I've ever met." He whispers, before kissing me softly, just a light nudging of his lips against mine, "I won't kill you, not yet. It's all I can give you."

I nod slowly, "Not yet."

He smiles and stands, "I have to get back to the Careers. They'll be wondering what I'm doing out here."

"They'll have heard his cannon." I point out drowsily.

He nods, "Yes. You get some rest Schuyler. I'll come check on you tomorrow."

"Sky," I murmur to him as he leaves, "Call me Sky?"

He hesitates in the doorway before coming back to me, kissing my mouth softly one more time before leaving.


Chapter Text

My first thought upon waking up is that I've forgotten something.

"Balls!" I tumble out of my makeshift bed and scramble for my clothes, relieved to find that Cato hadn't stripped me out of my wetsuit while I wasn't conscious. The fact that I'd almost died was mortifying enough. I hop over to my clothes and quickly tug them over my head. I yank my boots on and grab my hunting knives, the only weapons I really have left. I don't count the fishing trident, I can't even catch a bloody fish with it.

I hurry out of my cave and race into the forest, taking the familiar route towards the cornucopia.

I slow as I approach and then slide into the familiar grove of trees. A pair of dark brown eyes glares at me and I wince.


"I'm not even wearing a dress." Teesa grumbles as she waves me down to join her, "I'm only supposed to be stood up if I'm wearing a dress."

"If it helps, I was genuinely indisposed?" I tell her, crawling to peer over our log into the Career camp.

"For two whole ruddy days?"

"I can explain?"

"'See you tomorrow' she says," Teesa grumbles, "You know I was really considering raiding them on my own, that's how desperate food is getting."

I silently offer her the tiny container of chocolates the sponsors had sent me after Cato's outburst. She eyes them and then finally plucks one from the pot.

"You're forgiven."

That makes me grin and we settle down to watch the Careers.

Darrien and Marvel are goofing around with spears, their laughter carrying to our hideout as they play fight together. Clove is ignoring them and pulling faces at their excitable noises. The boy from 3 sits separately, clutching a spear of his own and obviously trying to be unobtrusive.

For a moment I can't see Cato, and then I spot him, walking up from the lake, bare chested and glistening with water droplets. I know I'm staring, but I can't stop, even when Teesa sends me an amused look.

"You're drooling milady."

"Shut up," I mutter, but finally manage to tear my eyes away, "So the pack's back together."

"Mmmhmmm." Teesa's eyes are still on me, but there's a small frown on her face as she lightly touches my neck. I wince, as the unexpected gesture twinges with pain, "So, unless you decided to try and throttle yourself, and I'm not discounting that as an option, who tried to choke you to death Schuyler?"

I pull a face as unwilling memories of hands on my neck, not like Cato's warm, possessive touches, but actually squeezing, intending to hurt me, fill my mind. I remember the water around me, unable to save me, lapping around me as my air ran out.

"The boy from District 10."

Teesa's eyebrow shoots up, "The one alpha dog over there took out?"

"Cato killed him yes," I say warily and Teesa stares at me.

"And you're not dead?" She pokes my shoulder, "You're not dead are you?"

"Stop that." I poke her back, "No I'm not dead. Cato saved me…to pay back a debt I owed him."

Teesa shifts around to face me completely, "Start from the beginning," she orders, "Leave nothing out."

And I do.

It's almost a relief to tell her the full story, about Cato's and my confrontations, about finding him stung in the woods, about our kiss and then subsequent fight, about the boy from 10, and how Cato had been the one to save me.

At the end she just stares at me and then she smacks me across the head, even as her other hand slaps across my mouth, muffling the resultant 'ow!'.

"You're an idiot," she hisses at me, "He was vulnerable! You could have taken him out! Both of them! Him and Peeta!"

"And then I'd be dead," I point out from behind her hand, "10 would have killed me."

"Maybe." She wrinkles her nose, "It would be inconvenient if you were to die. This partnership has its useful moments. When you aren't ditching me to make out with the enemy."

I give her a look, "You know that's not how it was!"

"This Game is all about the odds Schuyler." Teesa tugs on a tangled curl of my hair roughly, "With Peeta and Cato dead our odds would have been fantastic! I can't believe you didn't take the opportunity!"

"That's not me," I hiss back at her, gently pushing her hand away from my mouth, "It was never an option for me not to help them, either of them."

"And of course…you're the one who gets the ruddy opportunity," Teesa flops down and peers over at the cornucopia, "The world is so unfair."

"Would you have just killed them?" I ask her quietly.

"In a heartbeat." Her response is steady, "Fewer Tributes mean better odds for me. And they are physical threats. Peeta less so than Cato, but still…I wouldn't want to face him hand to hand."

I just shake my head and after a moment's silence I feel Teesa's slender fingers touch my wrist.

"Anywhere else," her voice is soft, "And I'd admire your compassion. But it's the Hunger Games. And right now? It's your greatest weakness."

I look at her and shake my head, "You can rub it in my face if Cato or Peeta kill me,"

She snorts and her fingers tighten for a moment and we go back to watching the Careers.

"I'll be too busy being pissed at you for getting yourself killed."

I grin slightly.

"So will Finnick."

She snorts softly and the two of us lapse into comfortable silence.

It's just heading into afternoon when a column of smoke draws the Careers attention.

They burst into a frenzy of activity, swarming around and Cato even drags the boy from 3 along with them as they head off towards the fire.

I glance at Teesa and she has her mouth pursed.

"What?" I whisper.

"It's a set up," She mutters back, "A fire? In the middle of the day? One using green materials to smoke that much? Someone wants the Careers away from their camp and maybe towards a trap…"

My heart lurches with fear, for both Darrien and Cato and I look in the direction they'd disappeared before Teesa's hand grips my shoulder, "We have to go in now. We might not get another opportunity like this."

"Right," I nod, and look towards the supplies, "What about the mines?"

"We go one at a time," She replies, getting up on her hands and knees, "I'll go first, and then once I'm clear, you go."

I nod again, and she gives me a quick, nervous little smile.

Then she's gone, darting into the meadow, quick and lithe and fast, watching all around her as she races towards the pyramid of supplies.

She pauses at the ring before lightly hopping forward, dancing and jumping through the dangerous minefield.

I can't breathe; I'm that tense, poised to move, even though I know I'll be less than useless should she set one off.

She overbalances on one of her last jumps and I shut my eyes as I watch her fall, wincing in anticipation of my friend being blown away.


I look up and she's pushing to her feet again, unharmed, and I'm almost weak with relief.

She leaps onto a box and begins rifling through the supplies, taking just enough here and there and pouring them into her pack. Things are getting tight now, and she takes more than what we'd dared take earlier. Who knew when she'd get a chance to steal from them again?

Then she moves once more, leaping and hopping until suddenly she's out and streaking back towards me in my trees.

It's my turn, and I shoot out of cover, running towards the supplies, passing Teesa.

Everything is going well until I get to the pyramid. I hesitate at the ring, unsure of myself, and my neck suddenly prickles.

I look up wildly, concerned about the Careers, had they figured out there was a trap? Had they returned?

Instead I look across the clearing to my right and I see Katniss standing there, the bow and arrows in her hand. She's looking from me, to the supplies, to the fire and I realise that she's the one who wanted the Careers gone.

She's let Teesa go, but she knows, as I know, time is running out. Soon the Careers will realise they've been tricked, and will race back here.

We stare at one another, frozen in place for long moments, before she draws her bow.

She doesn't aim at me, but my eyes track the curve of it towards a sack of apples hanging on the side of the stack and suddenly I realise what her intention is. Destruction. She wants the Careers starving like the rest of us.

She's going to use their defences against them.

An arrow slices through the air and nicks the bag and I turn to bolt.

Her intent is serious, she's ready to do whatever it takes, and I'm far too close to the explosion. If that bag bursts now, I'll die.


My heart leaps into my throat and I skid to a stop, twisting.

Darrien is racing across the field, his spear held loosely in his hand and he's waving at me frantically, looking back over his shoulders, "Go! Go!" he shouts.

He's warning me about the approaching Careers.

He hasn't seen Katniss.

My head jerks around, wide eyes finding the girl with the bow.

"No," I whisper.

But she's seen him, and her second arrow has swung around from being pointed at the bag of apples, to tracking my District partner as he runs towards me.

"No!" I lurch forward but it feels like I'm moving through molasses. Time is slow, thick around me as I try to move, try to run. Almost in slow motion I see a brief flash of silver, and then suddenly Darrien is reeling, crumpling to the ground as hot, shockingly red blood sprays from him, "DARRIEN!"

The world narrows for me as I run towards him, my legs weak and not working. I'm stumbling, running, sprinting for my brother, the only person I knew I could count on in this Arena.

I don't make it.

For a moment there is silence as suddenly I find my feet leaving the ground, and I'm flying through the air. As I hit the ground, time seems to return to itself and suddenly noise booms around me. I'm showered with flaming debris and smoke and I cough, gasping weakly as my ears ring.

Curling up on myself I cover my head with my arms and gasp as something burning lands on me, searing my skin. I push it away wildly and scramble away, disoriented by both my inability to see and my loss of hearing.

For so long I've relied on my ears, on my fingers and nose to guide me where my eyes could not.

Now my ears are gone, and all I can smell is smoke.

My fingers scrabble at the ground even as my arms burn with agony and I crawl desperately forward.


I have to find him.

When I do, I almost miss him, so blind has my terror rendered me. But what I can see I wish I can forget.

The arrow hit his shoulder, not a fatal wound.

But the sharp, seared, large hunk of metal from the shelter that is buried in his belly is.

I begin to sob, my fingers fluttering helplessly as I brush his coal black hair from his eyes, smooth the ash from the sun bronzed skin. I can't hear myself, I only know I'm crying because I can feel it, feel my chest heaving, feel the tears streaming down my cheeks.

"Darrien," I whisper, or at least I think I whisper it, "Darrien!"

Something suddenly looms over me, a shadow, and I rear up, my hunting knife coming to my hand as I slash out wildly. I have to protect him, I have to save him!

Cato dances back from my blade, eyes dark as he looks at me, and my face crumples, the knife falling from my hands.

Kill me, I think, looking up at him, kill me now.

Then Marvel is there, his face shockingly pale and green hazel eyes haunted as he dives beside me, fingers finding Darrien's as he clutches at him. Darrien's blue eyes turn to him and I sob harder at the softness in them, the care, the love as he looks at the other boy.

"You can't leave me like this," I hear Marvel's voice, as though it's from far away, "You can't leave me here like this Darrien! You promised!" His voice breaks on the 'promised' and I squeeze my eyes shut; rocking over his body as though I too have taken a fatal strike to the chest. "You promised!"

"It's a promise…I can't keep." Darrien's voice is weak and I have to strain to hear it over the ringing, "Marvel…"

"No." Marvel wipes his eyes bitterly, face determined, "No! I'll save you." He looks up at the sky and screams at it, "I'll do anything! Please!"

We all look up, but nothing happens, no parachutes appear, no soft chiming.

"Please…" Marvel whispers.

"Marvel…" Darrien, grips his arm, "It was never going to work…"

"Don't say that…" he leans over Darrien and I look away as he kisses him, frantic little kisses that cling longer and longer, "Don't say that, I'm going to save you."

"Cato…" Darrien's voice is slightly louder and the tall boy steps forward, his face tight with grief and fury, "Cato…I need to speak to Sky…take him away from here…please…."

"No!" Marvel screams it, shouts it as Cato nods, moving forward and grabbing the other boy, hauling him, fighting like a wildcat, away, "Darrien!"

Darrien's blue eyes slowly turn away from his anguished lover being dragged away to find mine and I feel my sobs wrack my body even harder. The smile on his mouth is sad, and his hand comes up to take mine in it. "Sweet Sky…"

"Please don't go…" I beg him, my voice sounding distant to my damaged ears, "Please Darrien…."

"I've…protected you…as best I could." He coughs wetly and I cry harder as blood slowly dribbles from the corner of his lips, "I just…wanted you to be safe."

"I am…" I whisper, clutching at his hand, "Darrien I…"

"Come here," he tugs me down and holds me close as I burrow into his shoulder like I had that night in the Capitol. He kisses my hair and I feel my tears slowly dampen his shirt, "You're the sister I always wish I'd had."

"You're my brother," I sob back, "The best brother I could ever want. Darrien…"

"I love you…" he tilts my head up and his smile is soft, "I always will Sky…"

Slowly his eyes close and then he coughs again, "Marvel…."

"Marvel!" I cry, and then Marvel is there, wild eyed and I move back, hugging myself.

"Darrien!" Marvel kisses him fiercely, and I see Darrien reach for him, his fingers clutching a small leather band.

"Come on," Cato is there suddenly beside me and his arms are surprisingly gentle as he lifts me up, carrying me away from the wreckage.

We walk away; me nestled into his large chest, the tears still flowing unchecked.

It's only when I hear the primal wail of loss and pain behind me, accompanied by the boom of the cannon that I know that Darrien is gone.

Cato puts me down under one of the scattered trees and turns back to gaze out at the wreckage, every line in his body tense with fury. Everything is hazy for me, but he is in sharp relief, standing there, fists clenching as he looks at the smouldering remains of his large pile of supplies.

I can feel it building, his fury, his grief, his anger and I stay still, watching him through eyes, swollen with tears.

Movement out of the corner of my eyes, and I see the boy from 3 tossing small rocks into the wreckage. He's testing that all the mines detonated.

Cato's eyes snap to him, and I wince, cowering down. He's an outlet for Cato's fury. It was his mines, his trap that sent the precious supplies up in smoke.

It was his work that killed Darrien, one of Cato's pack.

I try to move, wanting to stop what I know is about to unfold, but a second later it's over.

Another cannon booms through the Arena as the boy from 3 slumps to the ground, his neck broken neatly.

The display of controlled aggression, of cold blooded murder causes me to twist away, retching into the grass as I throw up green bile from my stomach. I haven't eaten, apart from some chocolate, there's nothing in my belly to throw up.

Cato's hand rests on my shoulder, and I flinch away from him, away from his concerned blue eyes, and the deep anger in them. Cato is grieving for Darrien in his own way, I know that, but I cannot grasp that the man now crouched beside me, is the same one that just killed the boy lying a few feet away.

"Don't touch me…" I whisper.

He rears back and stands, face impassive, before stalking away, back towards Marvel and Darrien's body and I curl in on myself, hugging my stomach.

"He's a brute." Clove's voice is quiet above me, and I see the grass rustle as she moves to sit down, a dagger in her hand, "He's always been shit with people. He's never learned to channel things healthily. It's why they marked him to Volunteer this Hunger Games." She looks at me, and I swallow, "The arrow. Who shot it?"

"Katniss," my voice is dull, soft, "The girl on fire."

Clove's face hardens and I hear a choked growl nearby. Slowly I look up and I meet two pairs of burning eyes, one pair blue, one pair a fevered hazel green.

"That bitch has been nothing but trouble." Marvel spits, "First Glimmer and now Darrien. She has to die."

I don't say anything but Clove nods. Cato just eyes me, arms folded.

"Did she die in the explosion?" Cato asks his eyes on mine.

I shake my head, "She set it off from a distance…"

"Which way did she go?" Clove's voice is low, but eager.

"I didn't see…" I look away.

"You had other concerns," Cato nods and turns to Marvel and Clove, "We're going hunting."

"What about her?" Clove nods at me.

Cato just looks at me, I can feel his eyes prickling along my skin, but I just look at the ground.

"Stay here Sky." He says finally, and nods to the other two, "We'll be back after the bitch is dead."

Slowly they disappear into the forest and I'm left alone in the clearing as night slowly begins to fall.

Except I'm not as alone as I think.

As the anthem begins to play and the seal appears in the sky a warm body settles beside me. I don't have to look around to know it's Teesa although why she has returned is beyond me.

Together we watch the boy from 3's face in the sky, before it melts away to be replaced by Darrien's warm, smiling face.

I don't even realise I'm crying again until Teesa gently wipes my eyes with her slightly grubby t-shirt.

Together we stay there until the night is almost impenetrable and then Teesa helps me to my feet.

"Come on," She says gently, "We need to disappear."

Together we disappear into the forests, and then we part ways, but not before Teesa passes a handful of the supplies she'd gathered from the pyramid into my numb fingers.

"May the waves carry you home." She says softly as I look at her, "As one day they will carry me."

"How do you know all these things?" I ask her, touched despite myself.

She just smiles and pats my cheek before disappearing into the forest.

Our alliance is over, I know that. It ended with the explosion of the supplies that had bound us together. But I am grateful to Teesa for her words, for coming back for me.

For giving me something of home, something to cling to now that Darrien is gone.

For the first time since I saw Katniss' arrow aimed at him, I feel something like peace. And something like determination burning in my chest. I would survive.

For Darrien.

For Finnick.

But also, for the first time, for myself.

"Home…" I whisper, and turn towards the lake, and towards my hideaway.

Chapter Text

I don't sleep well.

I don't know how many times I start awake during the night, gasping, sweating, crying. I can't push away the memory of Darrien's blue eyes, his voice, or the red dribble of blood that had leaked from his mouth as he lay there dying on the ground.

Which is how dawn, and Cato find me, sitting on a rock by the lakes edge watching the first rays of light stretch across the sky.

Finnick had just sent me a sponsor gift, a small tub of burn ointment for my arms, which I'd rubbed in thankfully, and a small note.

'I'm sorry, love – F' is all it said, but it was all that needed to be said.

He makes no noise to be quiet as he moves to stand beside me, and I make no move to draw my weapons as I look at the sky.

"In District 2," he begins roughly, "We build tombs, tombs of solid stone, our stone, monuments that stand the test of time so we do not forget those who have been before. There is a special crypt for those who…fall in the Hunger Games." I feel his eyes flick towards me, "I do not know if it is different in your District."

"It is," I say quietly, and shift slightly as he sits beside me on the rock, "When someone dies, in our District, we take a small wooden boat out, out to the current that flows out into the ocean and we sing them back to the sea. Those who die…in the Hunger Games…" my throat tightens up.

He glances at me again and clears his throat roughly, "Tell me?"

"Before the Dark Days, before Panem, the bodies of warriors were laid out in style on small wooden boats, and they were set alight before being sent out into the sea as the tide turns…carrying them away." I smile sadly, "Everyone gathers on the shore, and we sing them back to the sea."

"Sing them back to the sea?" I can feel his blue eyes on my face, "What does that mean?"

"There's a song, we've sung it for as long as we can remember…" I smile sadly, "You see, to us, the sea is everything. It sustains us, helps us, but it also takes from us too. Nothing is ever certain. It gives us life, and it takes us away. Most of us spend the majority of our lives on the water rather than on land. It just…makes sense that when we die…that our bodies are sent there. A part of that great…cycle."

"So…they will sing Darrien back to the sea?" He asks cautiously, still watching me.

"Yes," I whisper, "The Capitol will send him home, perhaps they already have…and they will sing him to the sea."

"They…won't wait for you?" Cato asks carefully, "In case you…win?"

"I don't think anyone believes that I'm going to win." I chuckle hoarsely, "Hell, most of the time I don't even believe it. No they never wait…"

He frowns slightly at that and then hops off the rock, striding off into the forest.

"Where are you going?" I call after him, twisting around, "Cato!"

He doesn't answer and I turn back to the bright sunrise, shaking my head.

I sit there for a while before sliding off my rock. The sun is coming up properly now, and it's time for me to go scavenging. My food is running dangerously low, and I no longer have the safety net of the Career supplies. Things are going to get tight before the end, and I'm grateful for all the reading I'd done, as well as the time spent at the survival stations.

But I've barely taken a step when Cato returns from the forest with his arms full of wood and kindling.

I blink at him, confused and he jerks his head at me, "Come on."

"You know I'm not a puppy, to trail behind you on command, right?"

"That depends," he smirks at me, "Would you obey if I asked you to roll over, sit, or beg?"

"You're abominable." I inform him, a smile curling up my lips despite myself, "I loathe you."

"I don't believe you for a moment." And he walks off, and after a moment of hesitation I follow.

"Good girl," he mocks, and I punch his arm, making him laugh as I wince at the impact.

I'm grateful for his attempts at humour, Darrien's death weighs me down like a sodden cloak, suffocating me with painful feelings and regrets. But Cato is trying to cheer me up, I know that…even if he is terrible at it. I wonder when it was that I stopped thinking of him as the monster from 2, or when he stopped, or if he stopped, thinking of me as the weakling from 4 who embarrassed his alliance plans.

We walk in comfortable silence along the lake, until we're a good distance from my hideaway, and out bordering the main body of the lake.

There he stops and throws down his supplies before crouching by them.

"Cato?" I kneel beside him, looking between him and the mass of sticks, grass and wood curiously, "What are we doing?"

"We," he offers me a stick, "Are building a raft."

"A raft?" I arch my eyebrow at him.

"Just a small one…" he pointedly doesn't look up at me, "We're going to…scratch Darrien's name onto it, set it on fire…and you're going to sing him back to the…well not the sea. The lake is the best I can do."

I stare at him, completely poleaxed, and then I fling my arms about him, holding him tight even as he tenses under my sudden need for physical affection.

It's the most beautiful, awkward and endearing thing I've ever heard of, and my eyes fill with tears.

"You're something, you know that?" I mutter at him, pressing a kiss to his cheek, "One moment I think…you are just the living end, and the next…you say something like that."

"It's no big deal." He shrugs awkwardly, "He was one of mine, a Career. He deserved better than to go out like that."

"He did." I draw back and slowly begin helping him make the raft.

It's only a few moments later that I hear a soft chiming and we both look up to see a silver canister floating down to us.

Cato puts down his sticks and catches it, ignoring the 4 on the side as he cracks it open. Taking the note, he passes it to me before retrieving what is inside.

As he explores I unfold the note from Finnick.

'You sure know how to pick 'em. Sing our boy home love, - F'

"Thank you Finnick," I whisper, and look over at Cato who is holding some basic supplies both for constructing a rudimentary raft and for setting it ablaze.

"I think your mentor approves," Cato says dryly, waving a stick at me.

"Of your idea yes, of you…" I pull a face, "Not really."

"Do I need his approval?" Cato snorts arrogantly, carefully tying together sticks, "You do know Finnick Odair is known for being a ladies man right?"


"So…" he shrugs, puffing his chest slightly, "He's all nice…but he's not here…"

"Are you…" I blink at him, "What are you saying Cato?"

"Just, don't get your hopes up on that score." He glances at me, "He's attentive now, cause he's your mentor."

"Cato…" I give him a look, "Are you…jealous?"

"No!" he growls the word out and promptly snaps a twig in half.

I look from him to the broken stick and then back again.

He shoots me a glare and huffs.

"You sure?" I ask, feeling my lips curling up, "So if I said…Finnick and I shared a bed together the night before the games you would….eep!"

I don't get to finish my sentence as Cato snarls and lunges forward, knocking me back onto the ground, and almost crushing me as he covers me with his own considerable muscle mass.

"You what?" his eyes are dangerous, and I remember that this man IS dangerous. Just yesterday I'd seen him snap a boys neck, just…snap it.

He looks at me and swears, reeling back.

"Don't…don't look at me like that."

"Like what?" It's the second time he's said that to me, but it's a very different case this time around.

"You fear me." He sneers, and this time I know it's directed at himself, "You think…I'm some kind of animal. A monster."

"You…do have a rather spectacular temper Cato." I remind him, sitting up once more, but I relent as he gives me a hurt look, "I don't think you're a monster. You're…you're who you were trained to be. But you're not…mindless…and I don't think you take pleasure in killing for the sake of it."

He shakes his head, not looking at me.

"It was platonic." I tell him softly, shifting to sit beside him, leaning against him, comforting him in the only way he could allow and understand; physically, "Finnick and Darrien," my throat closes up at the thought of my fallen District partner, "they were my brothers. Finnick always will be."

"Am I?" he glances at me, "Like a brother to you?"

"Do you want to be?" I ask, wrinkling my nose slightly, and smile as I feel some of the tension in him subside.

"No," he shakes his head, "Definitely not."

"I don't see you that way either," I say gently and kiss his cheek again, "Come on, let's get this raft built."

The dark mood shifts once more and I feel him relaxing into the task, once again sure of his place as the dominant, alpha male, not concerned with a threat, be they here or absent.

I think on our discussion as we build, and sigh softly.

I'd said in the interviews that Cato affected me, he still did, but with every encounter, every argument, kiss, touch, moment, I could feel myself growing more fascinated by the primal tribute.

If we weren't in the Hunger Games…

But we are, I ruthlessly remind myself of that, and push away the longing in my gut.

I plan to win. And at some point that means this fascinating, infuriating and strangely passionate man would have to die, either by my hand, or by one of the remaining Tributes.

The thought brings a pang to my heart, but I push it away, tying the last knot to the raft as Cato arranges the tinder and the small flat piece of wood that simply says; Darrien, loving brother and friend.

For a moment we both stare at our handiwork, a small raft with a single raised stick, holding Darrien's name bound to it. Neither of us is ready, or willing to let him go.

"He was a good man," Cato says softly and I look up at him, taking in the small pained frown, "He was loyal, to you and to me and the Careers. He kept the peace, he balanced us. He was…" and he barks a short pained laugh, "He was the water…cooling us, calming us…he washed away all that aggression that might have made us turn on one another. He was one of us. He was a Career, he was…pack."

He glances at me and then continues.

"He gave me his loyalty, and he gave you his love. And he gave Marvel both." He swallows, "I failed him. It was my duty as leader, to protect, to guard, to lead us…and when he needed me most, when he was there…protecting you, he was killed without even getting a chance to see who attacked him." He swallows, "For that I am…I shoulder that burden."

He looks at me as I shake my head.

"No." I say softly, "No, he always did what he thought was right. It is a crime…that he died the way he did." A tear trickles from my eye, "But it is not yours, and I don't think it is mine either...He did not deserve this…but we will remember him."

I pluck the solitary match that Finnick had supplied us with and drag it roughly against the wood, letting the flame flare up and then settle. For a moment I hold it in my hand and then I drop it onto the raft, "May the waves carry you home Darrien. As one day they will carry me."

Gently Cato sends off the raft, burning steadily and we watch as the lake currents carry it away from us.

"Sing…" he murmurs to me, and I almost jump as one of his large hands carefully takes one of mine in his.

Quietly I begin to sing, the lament reaching out over the waters, and then when I am finished, we watch for a moment more before slipping away.

Much as we would like to stay, the reality of the Hunger Games has well and truly sunk in.

We separate, Cato heading back towards where he left Clove and Marvel, and me towards my hideaway.

"I'll find you later," is the only thing he says before he vanishes into the shadow of the trees his footsteps disappearing.

I walk home, but halfway there I freeze as a little girl's scream fills the air.

"Katniss! Katniss! Help!"

I take off, my feet flying before I even think about it. I'm racing towards the sound, the breath thundering in my veins.

Katniss, I think and her name evokes a visceral surge of pain, hatred and hurt. She'd been cool to me in training, but I thought…we were friends.

Maybe that's why she didn't shoot me, I think, mind racing as my feet leap over a log, some sense of loyalty. Darrien didn't have any meaning for her.

I hear her voice before I see her, calling to Rue, the little girl from 11.

But when I do see her, it's already too late.


She whirls, her bow trained on me, as Marvel crumples to the ground, pulling out the arrow from his throat as he gurgles, choking on his own blood. I ignore the weapon trained on me and run to his side, my hands trembling as I try to staunch the wound at his throat.

But there is nothing I can do, Marvel is jerking on my lap, his blood staining my hands and dribbling down onto my clothes and I feel my eyes welling with tears.

He's drowning in his own blood.

His eyes are wild, with fear and pain as he looks up at me, and I brush his hair softly, trying to soothe him as his body fights, desperate to breathe.

"Shhhh…" I croon, "Shhh, you'll be okay I promise, I promise."

He gurgles, the blood bubbling from his lips as he tries to choke out a word. Even though it's unintelligible I know what it is.

"He loved you…he loved you so much." I whisper, stroking his hair and his eyes soften, his body stops jerking, "Go to him now Marvel…tell him…tell him I love him."

A jerky nod and his eyes close as I kiss his forehead, the tears only beginning to fall as the cannon booms above me.

Too late.

Too late again.

Zara, Darrien, Marvel. It seems I'm only good enough to be there as people pass, to see young men and women my age die around me.

I sob bitterly over his body, not because I knew him well, but because I'd never really gotten the chance to. I'd loved him for how he'd treasured Darrien, how he guarded his back, protected him, loved him. Darrien's love was my love, and I knew the pain that it would have caused my District partner to see his lover end this way.

I cry because he never got a chance, neither of them got a chance.

I weep because they loved each other so much.

I look up as suddenly a song breaks into my concentration and I see Katniss, cradling little Rue in her arms, singing her something softly.

A moment later another cannon booms and Katniss begins to weep herself over the prone form of the tiny little girl.

Slowly I stand and walk over to her, not stopping even as her head snaps up and her hand reaches for her bow.

"Don't." I grit out, and yank the spear from Rue's small fragile body. She hisses at me, but I ignore her, carrying it back to Marvel, straightening him out and laying the spear in his hand.

"Does he deserve that?" She asks me, her voice choked, "He killed an innocent girl."

"You killed an innocent boy." I reply, looking back at her, seeing her confusion, "Darrien."

"He was a Career."

"He was my brother!" I scream at her, twisting into a crouch, "And you murdered him, when he was only coming to protect me!"

"I had to blow up the supplies!" Katniss shouts back, her face twisting, "I had to even us out. He would have seen me…just a few moments more and he would have and…I couldn't…He wasn't supposed to die!"

I turn away from her and she inches forward.

"You killed him."

"No…" she shakes her head, "My arrow didn't kill him, I just wanted him down so I could take the shot! No one was supposed to die!"

I stand and she moves to stand too and the two of us look at one another, both grieving, both hurting.

"I can't forgive you." I say softly, my voice trembling, "Not yet."

"I know," she says, tears tracking down her cheeks, "Neither can I."

I walk away, hearing Katniss fall back to her knees beside the little girl, and the sounds of gut wrenching sobs reach me.

My steps slow, and then stop and I turn back to look at the girl, grieving as I had done just yesterday.

I can't hate her. She is like me, fighting a losing battle. We will lose everything before this is done. And in the end, the real enemy are the people who brought us here to die.

And though my chest aches still at Darrien's loss, made raw by the newness of the wound, and aggravated by Marvel's death, there is peace there.

Somehow the most brutal killer of the games gave me peace.

He'd let me say goodbye.

He'd let me let him go.

She needed the same thing.

Slowly I walk back and crouch beside her. She looks at me, eyes wet but surprised.

"Peeta," I say softly and her eyes widen, "He's looking for you."


"Because…" I look at her, "He loves you. And right now. You need him." I touch her shoulder, and stand.

Her voice is faint as I disappear into the trees, but I hear it nonetheless.

"Thank you."

Chapter Text

I catch my second fish the next morning.

It's a small triumph, and one I cling to as I huddle in my blanket chilled by the early morning air and the cold night that had been before. The Gamemakers are making it harder on us now, giving us scorchingly hot days and freezing nights. This isn't so good for me, since I had destroyed my insulated jacket to bind Peeta's terrible wound.

The blanket helps, so I wrap it around myself as I crouch beside my small fire and cook my prize. I'm a fair distance from my hideaway, following the lessons learned in Diarmid and Grainne about cooking, eating and sleeping in the same place, and the fire is merely a bed of hot embers, no greenery near it so as to limit smoking. I've wrapped the fish in a thick leaf that I know will not burn easily and I keep a sharp eye out. The leaf will stop the smell of cooking from spreading and perhaps alerting someone.

There are only seven of us left; Cato, Clove, Katniss, Peeta, Teesa, Thresh and myself. And it's weird to think that a week and a half or so ago there had been 24 young men and women standing on their pedestals watching the numbers counting down.

I push the thought away; thoughts of the previous Tributes makes me think of Darrien, Marvel and little Zara, and how they are no longer here with me. I have to hold it together; I know I have to hold it together, because no one will sponsor someone cracking. And sponsors have been keeping me alive.

The Games are taking their toll though.

The grief is tiring and soul sapping, the fear is a constant low hum in the back of your mind, the tiredness makes you irritable and twitchy…I cannot blame the boy from 10 from cracking like he did.

Sometimes I just want to do the same.

But then I think of Finnick, of Mags, of my mother and my father, even of Cato. And I know I can't, that I'm better than that. I have to live.

I have to fight.

I peel open the leaf and poke the fish, smiling as it shreds easily. Cooked, perfect time to go. I kick soil onto my fire and gather myself and my precious prize and head north, a triangle from my hideaway and my cooking spot.

I don't want to go too far, but neither do I want to be traced back to my home. Especially since one Tribute knows where it is already.

Eventually I will have to move, leave my haven and start hiding in the open. I've been fortunate to be able to be stationary for so long, like Thresh in his wheat field nearby. But it is the price I'll have to pay for healing Cato as I did, and taking him home. Eventually we will be enemies in truth, he will come hunting for me, and the cave will be the place he will go to take up the scent.

The trick will be not leaving my hiding place before I have to, as being exposed will lower my chances of surviving, especially in the weather the Gamemakers are giving us.

I push aside the thoughts and sit on a flat rock, feeling the Arena beginning to heat up, and open my leaf to eat my fish. I'm still hungry at the end, but I do feel the energy it gives me, the sustaining protein of water. It makes me feel a little more grounded, something tying me back to my roots, where fish and other sea creatures are the predominant diet.

I'm just grateful my wild stab with the fishing trident had killed the fish instantly. And even then, I'd felt a helpless twinge of sadness that I'd just snuffed out a life, even one as tiny as the fish.

I finish eating and bury the leaf, unfolding the blanket from around my shoulders as I head back towards my lagoon, following the river as it curves to the waterfall. Making my way down the slope I slide around the rocks leading towards my home and pause.


And they don't sound happy.

Instantly I scamper up into my cave, dropping my blanket on my bed and scoop up the second of my hunting knives. Sure, I absolutely won't be able to do anything with them, but they may give someone pause…which is better than just being killed without a second thought.

I head into the woods, quietly padding through them, clutching one of my knives, until slowly I edge towards the voices.

When I see what is waiting for me I struggle not to laugh.

"You said you knew where her traps were, you great, blue footed….booby!" Clove fumes, unrepentedly kneeing Cato who is trussed up in the net trap with her, "You and your, 'I got a 98% mark in tracking tactics at the academy'. Clearly you should have paid attention to the 2% you missed!"

"Shut your bloody face Clove." Cato growls, clearly uncomfortable in his almost upside down tangle, "She didn't look at this one when I was with her… I think."

"Well that's just fabulous isn't it," Clove snarks, jabbing him again, "Cause here we are, dangling like a pair of prize chickens waiting for the chop!"

"She'll find us; she checks the snares every day."

"And what if she's moved on hmm? Or what if she's stopped checking? Or what if someone else finds us first? OR what if she thinks we're the fucking enemy and kills us while we're trapped like this!"

"Maybe if you didn't shriek like a damn alarm siren the chances of us getting found by hostiles would be lower!" Cato barks back, clearly getting annoyed.

It's at this point that I decide to step into view, hunting knife still in my hand, and I arch my eyebrows at them.

"You two really are loud, you know that?" I inform them, aware that two pairs of eyes are now fixed on me; one pair brown, one pair blue, "You're lucky I was the one who heard you. What are you doing here?"

"How about you let us down first Sky?" Cato groans, although he looks more relaxed now, "Clove's got sharp, pointy, evil elbows- ow! Stop it you mad, raving bitch."

"You deserve everything." Clove growls back at him, and I cover my smile with my hand, "Look, 4, we're not here to kill you. We want to offer a truce, for the time being."

I raise my eyebrows, "A truce?"

"An alliance," Cato shoots Clove a look and she rolls her eyes, "You make it to the final 3, no worries about your safety, we'll protect you."

"And in return?" I ask, intrigued, wondering what it is they want from me. "What is it you want me to bring to the table?"

"Survival skills," Clove sighs, kicking Cato who growls at her, "Doofus here is more brawn than brain, and I haven't the first clue about foraging or hunting or anything like that. We didn't think it was a skill that would be needed."

"And then bitch on fire wrecked our food." Cato grumbles, but he's careful with his words, not mentioning what else Katniss had done with her explosion of the supplies, "We haven't eaten since, except for a few nuts and berries that we had as snacks for hunting parties."

"We've tried," Clove sighs frustratedly, "But apparently it's harder than it looks."

"Why me?" I ask, looking between them, "Why not Thresh, or Teesa?" I don't ask why not Katniss and Peeta…the answer is pretty obvious why not them.

"Who the hell is Teesa?" Cato asks, confused.

Clove elbows him again, "Obviously the girl from 5. I've just been calling her fox in my head. Look, Schuyler, I'm a bitch…"

"Damn right you are," Cato mutters, and grunts an 'ow' when she kicks him again.

"And I know your dealings with us Careers haven't always been a bed of roses. But the fact of the matter is we know you, more than we know the other two, by a long way. Plus…" She hesitates, glancing at Cato, "Your District partner was part of our pack, and we actually liked him the majority of the time. Which is a huge compliment from us."

"He trusted you." Cato says softly, but his eyes are fixed on mine, and I realise that he's trying to hide his and my dealings over the last few days, "Which is good enough for us."

"Besides," Clove smirks, "The great pudding here likes you."

"Clove!" Cato barks.

Clove just smirks and I blush slightly.

"So, deal?" she asks, looking at me directly.

I realise there is very little deception about Clove. She won't stab you in the back; she will tell you straight to your face that she's going to gut you. She's a vicious, savage killer, but she's blunt and honest, and kind of has her own dry charm to her.

I look between the two District 2 Tributes and I hesitate, because I know I have no hope of winning against either of them. But I have no desire to kill them, or leave them to be killed either.

"I have some conditions." I say quietly, and Clove's eyebrow arches.

"Let's hear it," she says, head tilting.

"I won't have anything to do with your kills," I say, my face twisting slightly, "You will not string out Teesa's or Peeta's deaths, you'll make it quick and painless."

Cato growls but Clove elbows him.

"And…" I look between them, "If it should come down to the three of us…you will give me at least half a day headstart to get away. I want at least a chance."

The two of them look between one another and Clove nods.

"We accept your terms." Cato's voice rumbles out, "Now please…can you get me away from this little bitch before she elbows me to death."

I chuckle and walk over to the rope holding up the net.

I don't expect it will be that simple, and I don't expect Teesa, Peeta, Katniss or Thresh to die quietly. But the fact of the matter is…someone will die, people have to die, and while it will break my heart to see Teesa's and Peeta's faces in the sky, it will break more to see Cato's.

Hating myself quietly, I slice through the rope.

"You know," Cato's voice comes from behind me as I scavenge some edible mushrooms from under one of the large shaded trees, "When those cannons went off yesterday…I thought one of them might have been for you."

I turn to face him, and see him standing there; shoulders hunched awkwardly, blue eyes on my face. Clove is back at the cave, having first flailed about 'Fucking hell they put a cave behind the waterfall', and then to 'Give me that food or I will kill you now'. She'd also been very enthusiastic about the ledge and blanket and had curled up for a nap, while I went out to forage.

We are alone.

"Obviously not," I say slowly standing as he walks towards me, blue eyes focused on my face, "Alive and well."

"Sky," he walks up to me and slowly pushes me back against the tree, crowding against me as he does when he's feeling particularly possessive or dominant, "You…"

He struggles with the words for a long moment and then he's kissing me, a hungry kiss that conveys the fear, the anger and fury he can't express. We cling together, lips meeting and parting, and this time I give it back as good as I get. I've seen too much death, too much sorrow since I was Reaped. This was something good, hot liquid desire flooding me from his lips parting mine, opening me up underneath his onslaught of passion.

It's rough, messy, hungry and full of all those messy things we can't say. I feel the animalistic growl rumble up out of his chest, vibrating through my body and causing a hot spike of sharp desire to slice through my belly. My nails scratch down his neck and he snarls, slamming me against the tree, his lips leaving my lips as one of his large hands slides down the curve of my waist to lift me under my bum. He's strong and pins me against the tree, coaxing my legs to wrap around his hips as his teeth find my throat, the pulse point he loves, and sinks in.

The moan is ripped from my throat, and he responds with a groan, mouthing at the soft skin of my neck, with hot desire to mark me, claim me, and own me. He's not used to losing anything, and he is determined to keep me as long as he can. I can feel it in every possessive line of his body, the territorial hands cupping under my bum and thighs, the mouth on my skin.

He presses against me, and our clothes rub together, not hiding the fact that we are intimately pressed together, and that both of us are hopelessly turned on.

"You drive me crazy," he breathes hotly against my neck, the air rushing against the tingling skin, "How do you do that?"

"I don't know…" I pant back, and then he's kissing me again, my hands raking up into his short blond hair, biting at his lip.

He growls and steps away from the tree, dropping to his knees and laying me down on the leafy ground, surging over me and kissing me with that animal passion that I've seen glimpses of before.

We writhe together, scratching, biting, groaning and his teeth sink into my neck again making my head arch back.

"Cato!" I moan, and he shudders throughout his body, hand tangling in my hair and holding my neck extended, bared to him.

It's animalistic, the most primitive signal of submission, of ownership. Lesser animals bare their necks to the alpha, a sign that whatever the greater predator wants of them they will allow it. Mates bare their throats during courtship, acknowledging the male as a worthy partner, and Cato seems to recognise this most ancient of positions.

He has the power, all the power, and instead of killing me, he kisses me again, a hungry, devastating kiss that leaves my lips bruised.

We break apart, panting wildly, and he looks almost feral, eyes glittering with passion as he looks down at me.

"My lady," he whispers, a grin curling up his infuriating mouth, "That chivalrous enough for you?"

"You'll never be the knight in shining armour," I reply, laughing breathlessly, feeling alive for the first time in days.

"I always liked the rogues better anyway," he replies, a wicked smirk crossing his mouth before he kisses me again.

"Attention Tributes!" the voice booms across the Arena, the famous voice of the announcer, Claudius Templesmith. Our heads both snap up and we stare up at the sky, tensing against one another, "Attention! There has been a slight rule change."

"A rule change?" I whisper, "But there is only one rule. One Victor."

He stares at me and then we look up again as the voice returns.

"The rule allowing only one Victor has been amended. Two Tributes may now win, providing they work together to reach the end of the Games. Thank you for your attention, and may the odds be ever in your favour."

We stare at one another, our heartbeats quickening, and then he's kissing me once more, a kiss of relief and eager promise.

We can win, we can win together.

Suddenly he freezes and pulls back, and he's staring at me in horror, and he twists away.

"Cato?" I ask, reaching for him.

He answers with a single word…but it makes my blood freeze.


He can't let his District partner die, and my heart sinks in my chest. He moves back and slowly I sit up. We stare at one another, and he rakes a hand through his hair.

"She's my partner…"

"I know…" I whisper back.

His expression is tortured, "I can't let her…"

"I know…"


"I know."

He kisses me again and then tears himself away, standing and walking away, his back stiff and full of his aggression.

"Fuck!" He shouts and draws his sword to slash at a tree, which shakes from the force of the blow.

I stare at him, and he looks back at me once more, face unhappy before he walks away, back to my cave. Back to Clove.

Laying there on the ground I cover my face with my hands and gasp into the palms.

Two Victors.

Maybe I should abandon the final Careers, abandon my cave and go find Teesa. Together we could win. Or maybe Thresh…he could fight.

And then my eyes shoot open and I sit up sharply.

Katniss and Peeta will be fighting harder than ever now. Now they have a chance of going home together.

The Games just got a ton more complicated and I flop back on the leaves with a huff.

Chapter Text

"You do know that if it comes down to you three, you won't have a snowflakes chance in a firestorm of coming out alive right?"

I jump and swivel around, looking up from my perusal of the forest floor to see Teesa, hanging upside down from a branch by her legs. She grins at me and I roll my eyes, quietly pleased to see my former partner safe and sound…and still popping up out of nowhere.

It's the day after the announcement, and life back at my cave has been awkward to say the least. Clove took one look at my marked neck, then Cato's guilty expression and fell about laughing at him. It resulted in a playful tussle across the sandy floor, while I tried not to show my amusement.

The problem is that I actually quite like Clove. I don't feel the kind of connection that I found with Finnick, Teesa, Peeta and Darrien, or the fondness I'd felt for little Zara, and definitely not the burning attraction that Cato instils in me, but I do like her. She's dry, honest, smart as a whip and the only person I've seen who can taunt Cato and merely get a growl in return.

It's probably a good thing Teesa and Clove are from different Districts, the kind of chaos they could cause together is something even I didn't want to imagine.

"I know," I sigh softly, and rub my face, "Before, when it was only going to be one Victor, I'd hoped that once they were each others biggest competition they would…turn on one another. But now…"

"Now there are two Victors, and if there are two Victors and you're the third solitary little body in their way, they'll get rid of you." Teesa shakes her head, still hanging upside down, "You're terrible at tactics Schuyler, how have you survived this long? It's like you have an allergy to deception and intrigue. I'd be fascinated watching you at home. You know if I weren't in these Games and if you weren't leading this Game down stranger and stranger turns."

"Shut up," I mutter at her and move off, hearing her swing down off the branch.

"Katniss found Peeta," I look back around and see the girl looking back at me with those intelligent brown eyes, "But he's in bad shape…"

"How bad?"

"'I have no idea how he survived this long' kind of bad."

"She'll get sponsor gifts for him," I point out, and my mouth curls bitterly, "I'm sure her decimation of the Career pack has helped her sponsor base enormously."

"She does look extremely competent." Teesa drawls wryly, and walks over to me, "Schuyler, work with me…" she walks forward and grips my arm, "Ditch the Careers, you don't owe them anything."

"I gave them my word," I say softly, "I can't…"

"That was before…" and why am I not surprised she knows all about it, "You can't be expected to hold to your word until it leads you to your death."


She turns me to face her, "We could do it: together we could outsmart these idiots."

"I know we could," I say it softly, "But…I promised…and I can't just…turn on Cato."

She smacks me across the head, "Are you crazy?" she hisses, "Fun is one thing, but letting your infatuation with that fatuous dickhead lead you down a path of certain destruction? What good will that do? Do you think Darrien would want that for you?"

"Don't use him against me!" I snap, shoving her away from me, "He deserves better than that."

"Maybe you should have helped him more then!" She points at me, dark eyes flaring, "Instead of letting his biggest competition walk away from certain death. Cato and Peeta would be dead, and maybe he would still live."

Her words hit me like a blow to the gut, and blind rage swamps me for a second before I suck in a breath.

"I would have done anything!" I scream at her, fury causing my eyes to blur, "I would have given ANYTHING for him to live! Question me, the games, anything, but not that!"

We stare at one another and then she sighs, turning away.

"You're on your own then. I'm going to find Thresh, I'm sure he'll align. You're going to be alone Schuyler…the only person without a partner."

"Then the game just hasn't changed for me." My voice is steady.

She walks away and then pauses at the edge of the clearing before walking back over to me and pulling me into a hug.

"I didn't mean it. About Darrien."

"I know." I hug her back, "Good luck Teesa,"

"You too Sky." She kisses my cheek and heads into the bushes, disappearing from one heartbeat to the next, "May the odds be ever in your favour."

I stand there for long moments, and then turn away, back towards the cave and my two alliance members, wondering what to do now.

I think it's a stupid plan from the moment Cato and Clove share it with me.

The announcement of the Feast has filled my two cave mates with a fervour that reminds me of their eagerness from earlier in the Games. Cato uses his battered and dulled blade to draw a small map of the Cornucopia clearing and lake.

"We split," he says, drawing three arrows, two from the opposite forest sides and one from the water. I can guess which one represents me, "I'll cover you from the forest, and you two run in. Clove you cover Sky, she's faster and you have ranged skills. Sky gets the bags, the two 2's the 4 and anyone else's you can grab to give us an advantage, and then we cover your retreat."

"They'll come after us if we have their bags," I point out, "What if it's four on three? I have limited skills…at best."

"We'll handle them," Cato says arrogantly, "It's what we're trained for."

Clove takes the opportunity to punch him in the stomach, "Bet I get more than you."

"You're on." He growls back, shoving at her head, messing up the tangled brown braid, "Bitch."


"Well this is lovely," I say, interrupting them before they get really going, "If I can get back to the water after the feast, none of them will catch me."

"Good…that will give us an edge." Clove smirks wickedly, "Waterway escape."

"We need our packs," Cato's voice is firm, "We can't afford to give up such an advantage this late in the Game."

"And if Fire girl pokes her head up?" Clove fingers one of her knives, "I owe her a blade or two for that dumb bitch Glimmer as well as Darrien and Marvel."

Cato's eyes meet mine for a long moment and then he nods at his District partner.

"You can have her. Just make it a good show."

I look away, my stomach clenching queasily.

It is dawn and I'm crouching in the grove of trees by the lakeshore, the nearest point to the cornucopia that I can manage while still maintaining my cover.

My eyes scan the trees, knowing that somewhere out there are Cato and Clove, and most likely Katniss, Thresh, Teesa and Peeta as well.

The Feast is to lure us in, to draw us to a single place for a second bloodbath as we scrap over the things we so desperately need. The thought of the blatant manipulation makes me feel ill, but I can't defy it.

We need those supplies too badly.

The sun is just rising as a table slowly begins to rise out of the ground, seven bags resting on it. I wait for a heartbeat of time, and it's just enough for Teesa to duck out of her hiding place in the actual Cornucopia, grab a bag and dash for the trees.


My eyes track her, and then I'm moving too, sprinting across the grass.

It's a rush, the feeling of running at top speed, the air rushing past your ears, and your heartbeat pounding so loud you're sure everyone around Panem can hear it too. My feet are flying across the ground, and my eyes are focused on the Cornucopia.

I have to trust the plan.

I have to trust Cato and Clove.

I skid around the side of the cornucopia and come face to face with Katniss, both of us reaching for our bags at the same moment. I yelp in shock, sliding to a stop, and we stare at one another, wary. She has her bow, but there is no arrow drawn; she needed a hand free to grab the bag. I'm clutching my hunting knife, but it's only for show, I doubt I could ever use it for the purpose the Gamemakers intended.

We stare at one another, and then her hand slowly reaches for her bag.

Carefully my hand does the same, reaching out to snag the one with the number 4 proudly emblazoned on the front. I sling it over my shoulder my eyes not leaving Katniss'.

Neither of us move, and then we both reach out again, Katniss for the second 12 and me for the pair of 2's which are larger than most of the others, and imposing.

Her eyes narrow slightly as she watches me take the two 2 bags.

"They'll hunt you down." She points out, "Unless…you're working with them?"

"It's none of your business who I work with." I growl at her, "I'm guessing that bag," and I nod to the male 12 bag, "Has medicine for Peeta. You should concern yourself with that."

"Don't get in my way Schuyler," she growls at me.

"Don't get in mine." We look at each other for a few more moments and then we both turn on our heels to run.

And of course that's when the plan goes to shit.

I run around the side of the Cornucopia and then for the second time in as many minutes I skid to a stop, sliding to the ground with a yelp as a scythe slashes the air above me, right in the air where my throat would have been a few moments ago.

The world reels as I roll out of the way of a follow up blow and I manage to scamper backwards.

I scramble back, dragging my prizes as Thresh, the boy from 11, slowly advances on me. Its only as I scrabble across the ground that I realise I've lost my knife.

I'm helpless, with a massive young man bearing down on me.

He doesn't say anything, just adjusts his grip on the scythe, before gripping my shirt and hauling me up slightly. I struggle wildly, my eyes fixed on the wickedly curved scythe above my head.

"No," I claw at his hand desperately, feeling as helpless as I had when 10 cornered me, "No…Clove!"

"She's busy." Thresh's voice is deep as he hauls me up close, arm rising to deliver the death blow, and I look around wildly.

Clove is nearby, pinning Katniss to the ground, a sharp dagger poised delicately in her fingers over the older girls mouth, a wild and almost feral grin on her face as she murmurs to her prey.

She's making it a good show, like she promised Cato she would, but it seems in her eagerness to finally get Katniss she's forgotten me.

I squeeze my eyes closed and hope desperately that Finnick isn't watching. That my parents aren't watching. Decapitation is bloody and messy, and for all Thresh's strength he will not kill me with a single blow…it will be painful.

The world narrows to the hand holding me up and the sound of my heartbeat pounding franticly in my ears. I have seconds, seconds to live, and I whimper.

I don't want my family to see this.

But the blow doesn't come.

Instead I'm dropped to the ground unceremoniously, and my eyes shoot open as I gasp, the world rushing back into focus around me. Thresh walks away from where I am lying, and after a few paces he breaks into a charge, scooping up something from the ground, bearing down on Clove who is crouched over Katniss, unaware of her danger.

"Clove!" I scream.

She twists but her eyes only have time to widen before Thresh is hauling her up, a rock clenched in his huge meaty hand.

I don't even think of running away.

I scramble up to my feet and stagger forward, dropping the bags as Clove begins to scream for Cato. His roar of her name in return is too far away, and I suddenly realise just who is responsible for that.


My clever former partner has played him, and us perfectly, and everything is falling apart. Thresh shakes Clove like a dog shaking a rat and she screams once more, and once again I don't think.

I launch myself in a desperate leap onto his back, trying to distract him from the girl he's holding, dangling there like a helpless doll. She's screaming and Katniss' eyes are wide from where she's sprawled on the ground.

Thresh roars in anger and rams me back against the metal of the cornucopia, once, twice and then I scream as I feel something snap from the third blow, a rib maybe, and suddenly my chest is on fire. I drop to the ground, my arms loosening of their own volition.

I'm helpless as Thresh pounds the rock against Clove's temple and drops her to the ground contemptuously. She lands nearby and I crawl towards her, my body howling in agony as I come to a stop beside her.

"Clove," I whisper, "Clove…."

She's barely conscious, eyes fluttering wildly, and my hand hovers over the noticeable dent in her temple. She won't survive this, I know it deep in my bones, and I feel the despair well up once more. She looks up at me, her attention fuzzy and unfocused but her mouth curls slightly, "Sky," she mumbles thickly, "Look after him."

I know who she means without having to ask.

"I swear it to you." I whisper back, "I'll protect him with everything I have."

She smiles, her hand lifting slightly to wave muzzily before finding my cheek, "He's an idiot," she gasps a little on a breath, "But he's honourable. He'll…blame himself….like he did with Darrien…like he did with Marvel. It's not his fault…"

"I'll make sure he knows that…" I stroke her undamaged cheek, "You're safe now Clove."

"Stay with me…" she rasps, but before I can promise not to leave her I'm hauled up by my waist.

I scream and thrash, the world almost disintegrating before me in absolute agony, my eyes fixed on Clove's despairing brown ones. I twist, coming around to face Thresh who holds me up in the air, helpless, like Clove before me.

"Schuyler!" I hear her moan, eyes sliding closed.


I can see Cato, sprinting towards me, charging across the field like a golden vision, the look of fear on his face frightening to behold.

He's too late.

The blow strikes me across the head and I know no more.

I come to and for a moment I wonder if I am dead.

It's a fleeting thought as the next second my body seems to realise I'm conscious and agony lances through me. I scream, and the sound rings out in the air.

"That ought to bring him running,"

I turn my head, blinking through blood and tears, and I see Teesa crouched beside me, her face pitying.

"Teesa," my voice is hoarse, "Why aren't I dead?"

"You're more use alive than dead right now." She moves forward and checks over me quickly, "Try not to move, one of your ribs is poking through your skin. We don't want another one to puncture your lungs."

"What do you want?" The world feels fuzzy, nothing is focusing, and everything seems to be a golden blur around us, "Where am I?"

"In the wheat field." She reaches over and I hear the sound of water before she dabs my face with a wet cloth, "I think your wounds are infected…you have a fever."

I turn my head and my lips curl up into a small smile as I see water. There is a deep pond here in the wheat field, a burbling stream running down towards where I assume my lake is. No wonder no one had seen Thresh, he had food, he had water. He just had to bide his time.

"Mmmmm…" I murmur, and reach out, brushing my fingertips against the cool water, "What do you want?"

"Cato." It's not Teesa's voice but the deep booming voice of Thresh. My head isn't working properly and my neck feels limp and lolling as I try to look at him. He stands over me, arms folded and those dark eyes are fixed on mine, "He'll come."

"He won't come for me…" I mutter, voice wobbling as I woozily try to focus on him, "He has Clove…"

"Clove is dead." Teesa's voice is calm, "And we have you, and the three bags that would have been yours. He will come, for you and for the gear he needs, and then we will deal with him."

"And then you." Thresh shakes his head, "It will be quick. I have no desire to prolong your suffering. I don't play games with lives."

"He won't…"

"He will." Thresh stares at me, "I saw you together, you were near the wheat field, both of you. He will come for you."

"He's smart."

"Not smart enough." Teesa's voice is emotionless but she moves the wet cloth over my face again, "She's burning up."

They want to hurt Cato.

I can't let them.

"Don't…" The world is so fuzzy, "Don't hurt him…"

One of them responds but the world is darkening again and the words don't make sense, and slowly the world vanishes and I fall into silence and black nothingness once more.

Chapter Text

My dreams are fevered; something I only know because of the brief moments of lucidity, snapshots that I think are reality.

Teesa and Thresh standing together, his head bowed as she murmurs to him, hands sketching something out, a plan.

Then the chiming of a sponsor gift.

The white of the note left on my chest by slim fingers.

Blinding pain as something holds me down as quick and clever fingers do something to my ribs.

Eventually though my eyes open and I blink blearily up at the sky above me. I still feel weak as a kitten, but my head is clearer now, and I see that night covers the Arena, the faintest colour of dawn touching the horizon.

Slowly my fingers trail down my sides, wincing as they brush against sensitive skin. My ribs have been bound up, roughly, I notice, touching the white bandages that wrap around my torso. Slowly my hand reaches out and retrieves the note which had slipped to the ground. It's from Finnick, but not addressed to me.

'Patch her up for pity's sake. He won't come for a corpse. – F'

"Charming as ever…" I murmur with a smile and look around me.

My eyes meet Thresh's where he stands watch nearby, hand on the scythe that I'd seen him wield at the feast. His black eyes glitter in the faint pre-dawn light; and nearby I see Teesa curled up asleep, perfectly still and practically invisible against the shadowed, golden grain.

"How long was I out?" I ask huskily, my voice weak.

"Only a few hours," his voice is deep, "Over 12 hours in total. The Capitol medicine your mentor sent is strong."

"He worries," I say, rubbing my thumb over the white paper, "I haven't been an easy Tribute for his stress levels."

That makes Thresh rumble a deep almost inaudible chuckle.

We sit in silence for a few more moments and then I ask, hesitantly, "No sign of him?"

"He's nearby," Thresh's hand tightens on his weapon, "We saw him prowling the border at dusk…Teesa was tending to your wounds. It drew him close."

"Is it wrong that I hope he stays away?" I mumble, brushing my hair out of my eyes, "I'm bait…"

"It is not wrong." Thresh eyes me, "You are loyal. Teesa said as much. However your loyalty is misplaced. A mouse should not trust a viper."

"He saved my life. He did not have to." I point out.

"I doubt it was selfless." Thresh eyes me, "You must have done something first."

"Well…yes but…" I sigh gustily, "He is trustworthy and he's honourable. Trust me I was surprised too…didn't expect that at all."

"I believe you are mistaken in his better qualities." Thresh shrugs, "But I do not think I will be able to convince you otherwise."

"What…happened at the Feast?" I ask after a moment, needing to know, "It's a bit of a blur to me, but I thought you were going to kill me."

"I was." He looks at me steadily, "And then I heard 2, she mentioned Rue, how they, the Careers, killed her. She was just a little girl." He frowns, "I hope she did not suffer. I killed 2. I spared 12 for her kindness to Rue. I was about to kill you, but Teesa told me to grab you and run. She usually has a plan, so I did."

"I was there," I say softly, "When Rue died. Marvel killed her." I shake my head sadly, "I don't think she was a little girl to him in that moment. All he could hear was her screaming for Katniss, and Katniss…had killed Darrien."

"So?" His face is bullish.

"He loved Darrien…"

Thresh's eyes widen slightly and then he looks away, processing my words. "Vengeance. She took away someone he loved. So he returned the favour."

I nod.

"He wasn't evil, and he wasn't trying to torture her. He just…was trying to find peace."

We sit there in silence for long moments and then Thresh's voice rumbles.

"So 2 did not kill her?"

"No." I shake my head, "He was alone,"

Thresh frowns again and looks away.

"That is…unexpected. Thank you. For telling me."

We sit in silence for long moments as the sun slowly begins to light the horizon. It's strangely peaceful, even though my body aches, and I know I'm in mortal peril. The birds are singing, the sky is awash with pinks and golds and the air is cool on my face.

I lay still for a while, perhaps looking like I have fallen back to sleep, and glancing under my eyelashes I can see Thresh turn his attention back to the wheat fields.

He thinks me incapacitated.

I'll show him incapacitated.

There's no way I'm going to lay here and wait for Cato to stumble into their trap. It's not an obvious one, I can only see Thresh, armed and ready, and Teesa asleep, but I know the red haired girl. She always has a scheme, and contingency plans on top of those.

So slowly, minutely, bit by painful bit I inch towards the large pond and the deep river flowing towards the lake.

Slow, measured, tiny movements.

I inch my way along the ground, keeping the pain buried, and making sure my breaths stay deep and even.

So close.

Almost there.

I almost weep with relief as I feel the water lap at my fingers and then at my body as I slowly slide into the cool water.

Just before I go under I snag a reed from the bank and slip it into my mouth, sliding under water and going as deep as I dare, paddling into the rushes. I'm hidden by water plants and breathing underwater.

Silently, cocooned in the cool, protective embrace of the water, I thank all those years of swimming in the lake of District 4. It's an old trick…but I've never seen anyone use it in the Hunger Games before.

I count the moments by pressing my fingers to my wrist, measuring my heartbeat, I don't trust myself not to come up too early. So I drift, counting the reassuring thuds.

After I reach a hundred I slowly begin to make my way down the waterway, keeping the reed in my mouth and making sure I keep my breaths even and careful. If I panic my body will demand more air, and this reed only can supply so much.

I get a ways down stream, with long careful strokes. My ribs hurt still, but they are tightly bound, so I feel okay about pushing onward. I don't go too far though, before coming up for air, knowing the bend in the river will hide me from the two hunting me.

I surface and shake the water out of my eyes.

But the instant my ears clear I hear chaos.

Thresh is roaring, a sound of rage and then I hear an answering bellow, but it's from a voice I know all too well, and it's shouting my name.

"Sky!" Cato's voice fills the once peaceful air, panicked and furious all at once, "SKY!"

I scramble out of the water and hurry through the wheat, pushing stalks out of my way as I run towards his voice. I don't dare answer, because I fear, I fear Teesa's trap has snapped shut around him.

And then I smell it. Smoke.

It's everywhere, and then I can feel the heat ahead. I lift my shirt, the wet material covering my mouth and duck into the smog ahead of me.

It's not the first time I've been blind, and so I follow my way by the sound of his voice, the direction of the heat.

When I come to the wall of fire I pause, and open my eyes wide, peering through the burning air. He's in a cleared patch of field, and fire rages around him, slowly moving in. He's twisting in the centre, panicked, blind, and choking on the thick smoke.

It's my turn to be the hero.

I lunge through the wall of flames before me, staggering into the clearing and rolling as the fire licks at my skin. It hurts but I know it doesn't hurt as much as losing Cato would. I grab him, and he almost lashes out in a panic before he realises just who it is.


"Come with me." I turn back the way I came and then I shove him through the flames, dashing after him, my wet clothes keeping me protected once more as I land on him, forcing him to roll, the dust smothering the flames, my bare arms burning, "Come on…"

He follows my lead, for once not arguing, and we hurry back to the deep river.

Together we huddle in the water as the flames come up to the side of the bank, a furious maelstrom of burning death that reaches for us.

But again the water is my ally…and the flames eventually burn out, leaving us, panting, soot covered, but alive.

We stay there for a long moment, but then Cato lets out a shuddering sigh and coughs.


"You said it," I reply, wheezing a little from my own inhalation of the smoke.

"Are you alright?" he asks me then, turning me to face him, hands coming up to cradle my face, checking me over for wounds, "I heard you scream last night…"

"Broken ribs," his face darkens murderously and he growls, "It's better now though. Sponsors…"

"It was Thresh wasn't it?" He snarls softly and tugs me close, protectively, "Fucking bastard. Clove told me...told me they took you. Him and the bitch from 5."

"Yeah," I curl a hand behind his neck, "Cato? I'm so sorry about Clove…I tried…I really…"

"I know." His face trembles slightly, blue eyes haunted by grief and rage, "I'm going to make him pay."

"Cato…" I make him look at me, blue eyes locking onto me, "No."

"What?" his eyes narrow, and a snarl leaves his throat, "He killed Clove!"

"And where will it end?" I ask, my hand flailing, "Where will any of this end? How does that justify making someone suffer a painful death?"

"If you had the chance you'd do the same!" he growls, "You'd want fire girl to pay."

"No," I cup his cheeks, "I wouldn't. Enough is enough Cato. Katniss killed Darrien, Marvel killed Rue in vengeance, Katniss killed him, Clove tried to kill her, Thresh killed Clove for Rue…don't you see…its so…pointless! There is always someone heartbroken in the end, and always someone wanting revenge. It has to stop."

He stares at me, his eyes hard, and I swallow, trying once more.

"This isn't a Game anymore Cato. I just…want to get home. I'm sick of all this…this…" I don't have a world for it, but he seems to understand, "I need this to be over. Don't make it into a bloody battle…just…kill him and be done."

"I don't think it will be so easy." Thresh's deep voice comes from above us and we turn to see him and Teesa on the bank of the river, "I have no intention of just letting him kill us."

Cato growls and steps forward, unarmed but ready to launch into a battle in which he's, for once, unlikely to win.

Thresh just grunts in response and makes a gesture, like 'come on.'

Cato surges up and out of the water, and launches himself at Thresh and the two of them go tumbling back into the seared wheat, fighting like a pair of wild dogs. It's bloody and ferocious and for a moment I am frozen in place by the violence.

It's then I see Teesa yanking open the male 2 tribute bag from the feast, and see her draw out a beautiful sword, a blade that shines and glints wickedly sharp in the air. It forces me to move and I lunge forward, grabbing her ankle as she moves and yank, causing her to fall with a yelp.

The sword goes flying and I hear a splash.

Teesa rolls to face me, and we stare at one another. We are former allies, friends, but now we have to be enemies, forced to fight, to hurt one another.

"I'm sorry." I say softly, and then we are attacking, rolling into the water like a pair of wildcats, hissing and spitting as we claw, bite and scratch. I grab a hank of hair and yank viciously, and she yowls before jabbing her elbow into my ribs.

I scream.

Suddenly Cato is there, snarling with fury, and he grabs Teesa, yanking her up and throwing her bodily away from me. She hits the deep water and sinks like a stone, before thrashing up.

"Help!" She flails wildly, eyes wild as Thresh and Cato crash together once more, both of them bleeding, but neither giving up, "I can't…" she sinks a little and scrabbles to the surface again, "I can't swim! Sky!" she screams my name before going under again.

For a second I wonder if this is the moment I become the monster the Hunger Games want me to be; if I will leave her there, desperate and drowning.

But in the next heartbeat I'm moving, diving into the water after her and tugging her to the surface.

I drag her to the opposite bank and I leave her there, gasping. She will live, but she won't be able to come back to help Thresh…not unless she makes the long circle around. And she's far too practical for that.

We stare at each other for long moments and then I murmur.

"I won't change. Not for you. Not for them."

And then I'm back in the water, swimming towards the writhing shapes of Cato and Thresh.

A glint of something catches my eyes and I dive down, my fingers questing through the dim water, reaching out until they curl around the hilt of the beautiful sword.

Cato's sword.

I head back to the surface and swim forward, finding my feet and call out.


He turns, and I hold up the shining blade. His eyes light up, and he slams Thresh down against the ground before surging to his feet and over to me. A swift, hungry, vicious kiss and then he is gone once more, the sword gleaming in his fist.

After that…there is no doubt about how the fight will end.

Thresh puts up a valiant effort, and it's a long bloody battle after that until the cannon sounds, signalling his death, and the fact that there are now only five tributes remaining.

Cato stands there over his body, bloody, chest heaving, hand white knuckled on the hilt of his sword. Then slowly he turns and looks at me.

I look up at him, standing there, bathed in sunshine, surrounded by the dark scorched earth of the burned wheat fields, the sword I found for him shining in his hand, like it belongs there.

He must see something in my face, acceptance perhaps, awe even and his own wary expression softens before he kneels down beside me.

"My Lady." he murmurs.

"Hold still,"

My fingers are gentle as I wrap some of the remaining bandages, from the sponsor gift Finnick had sent to Thresh and Teesa, around the worst of Cato's wounds.

The fight with Thresh had been bloody and terrible, vicious to the end. Cato had emerged victorious but far from unscathed.

We left the wheat fields, taking with us the three bags from the feast, the sponsor gifts, and the remainder of Teesa and Thresh's food supplies. As the sky rumbled threateningly overhead we walked down the river to the lake, and without even asking one another we returned to my cave behind the waterfall.

It's now raining heavily outside, but we are tucked away, safe and mostly warm inside the cave which has been my home for the past fortnight. Here we can relax and here I begin to tend to Cato's terrible wounds.

Thresh had gotten in a few good blows with his scythe, but thankfully none of the deep wounds are in dangerous places. Carefully I wrap up the worst of them, using the remaining medicine gifted to me by Finnick, the one for my ribs, and then the burn cream I'd gotten after Darrien's death.

Carefully I slather it on both of us, on the red raw skin of our arms, and then I sit back with a sigh.

We sit in silence for long moments, just laying there with our backs against the stone walls, listening to the sound of the waterfall and the rain.

"Tomorrow," Cato says softly and I look across at him as he stands, offering a hand to me, "We'll come up with a plan tomorrow."

"Okay," I say softly, taking his hand and letting him pull me up, "Tomorrow."

Slowly he draws me close, holding me against his chest, arms curling around my body gently, careful of my damaged ribs. He's holding me like I am something precious.

Something to be treasured.

"I just…want to hold you," Cato says softly, his head dropping to tuck into the curve of my neck, "I was too late. Too late for Clove…in time only to watch her die." His body shivers against mine, "Too late to save you."

"You did save me." I say softly, my hand stroking his hair, "I'm here."

"None of his is happening the way it was supposed to."

"No," I say softly, remembering Finnick's and Mags' plans. They feel so long ago now, "It's not."

He lifts his head and his lips find mine in a soft, slow, deep kiss.

"You and me." He whispers against my mouth, "You and me. We'll win this. We'll go home. Together."

"Together," I say softly and he kisses me again.

"No one is going to take you from me," his voice rumbles through my body, as we lay down on our makeshift bed, curling up together to listen to the water outside, the rain falling over the arena, "You are mine."

My lips curl up slightly.

"Possessive much?"

And then I laugh, the first true laugh in ages as he gives an affronted huff, tugging me even closer.

Perhaps now, I think to myself as we drift off to sleep, his body curled around mine protectively, perhaps now…everything will be alright.

Chapter Text

"It's raining,"

We are standing in the entrance to the cave, Cato leaning against the wall, his arms folded broodingly, and I am just watching the drops fall down rapidly outside.

"Brilliant observation. Your deductive skills leave me just limp with envy." Cato snarks back, "I can see that it's raining. I'm wondering why it's raining."

I shoot him a look.

"Nothing happens by chance in this Arena." Cato clarifies, "Not the cold evenings, the hot days, not the lack of rain and now...not the fact it is raining. What are they up to?"

"Katniss was injured at the Feast, and Peeta was injured and sick." I point out quietly, ignoring Cato's brief smirk at the mention of the boy from 12's injury, "They want this to be a showdown. They're giving them a chance to recover. Us too..." I touch his arm, "You could use the rest you know, Thresh did injure you."

"Pain doesn't affect me." Cato shrugs arrogantly and I roll my eyes.

"You're such an idiot," I inform him, ignoring the glare he shoots my way, "You're human, not a machine, just take the time they've given you to relax, and...heal. "

I move away from the entrance and scoop up a small handful of the nuts we'd claimed from Teesa and Thresh's supplies. I don't look around at him as I pop one into my mouth and after a few moments I hear his feet walk over to me and his arms curl around my waist, holding me tight against his chest, protective and possessive.

"Are you going to entertain me then?" he murmurs in my ear, his voice low and deep, "I get bored very easily, little fish."

I elbow back at him at the nickname, and he laughs huskily.

"Depends on the entertainment you're after." I say, lifting a nut up over my shoulder. He hums contentedly and takes it from my fingers, lips brushing against them as he takes the piece of food away with his teeth, "You could have used your hands you know."

"And let you go?" He snorts, "Not likely. You're mine, remember?"

"You claimed me so you could kill me." I remind him, leaning back against his chest, "Hardly reassuring."

"You're mine." He breathes against my neck, "Now I can keep you, that is what I mean to do."

"I'm not a pet you know?" I twist in his arms, looking up at him, "Cato, I'm not a toy for you to play with."

"I know that," he arches an eyebrow down at me, "Stop fretting."

"I am not fretting," I huff back facing back forward and feeling his chin settle on my shoulder once more, "You're infuriating."

"So you say." We stand there for a few moments and then he lightly kisses the join of my shoulder and neck, "Tell me about District 4."

"District 4?" I smile slightly, "Well…it's by the sea…"

"I've never seen the sea," his voice is soft, "I've heard about it, from Peacekeepers who were sent to other Districts, but…I've never seen it."

"Really?" I shake my head, "You'll love it. It is water as far as the eye can see, with waves rolling in. The water is salty, and it has fishes swimming through it. The beaches are sandy…it's…beautiful…"

He seems to hear the homesickness in my voice, because his arms tighten, "You'll have to show it to me when we are crowned Victors."

"You'll never want to leave…" I warn him with a soft laugh, "It's perfect."

"Maybe I won't." he kisses my neck again, and I know this is the closest I'm going to get to a declaration of feelings, or an admission of a potential future between us, "You'll have to show me how to swim."

I look around at him in shock, "You can't swim? But…in the waterway in the wheat field…"

"I'm taller than you." He points out, "I could touch the bottom, and I didn't go any deeper." He scowls slightly and hunches his shoulders, "It didn't seem like a pertinent skill."

"I can't imagine not being able to swim," I muse, considering, "I could show you a few moves now?"

"It's raining, remember?" he rolls his eyes.

"You're going to get wet anyway genius." I poke him, "Besides, swimming in the rain is fun."

"It's not something I need to know right now."

"They might flood the Arena again." I point out, turning to face him completely, "Don't be a wuss now Cato."

"I am not a wuss." He growls down at me, eyes flashing slightly as I step away from him, over towards the entrance, "What are you doing?"

"Going swimming," I start taking off my boots, hopping on one foot and then the other, "What about you?"

"Staying here where it is dry and sort of warm." He scowls at me as I laugh, kicking off my socks.

"You big baby."

"I am not." His eyes run over me as I shed my pants next, standing there in only the plain, black, serviceable underwear and then bra that I'd been given to wear under the tribute uniform.

"You are too," I flush slightly at his scrutiny and then move away from him, stepping out of the cave, down the incline to the bank of the lagoon. The rain is cool on my skin, running down my arms and down the curve of my spine and I grin before doing a run along a rock shelf and diving smoothly into the lagoon.

The sound of the rain vanishes away and I smile as my body glides through the water, feeling sleek and powerful. I can't help but feel beautiful and graceful underwater, something I'm not on land. I trip over things far too much to have the poise and grace of some people. And I lack coordination.

But in water, gravity is suspended and even someone as desperately awkward in movement as me can glide like a boat…or a fish, I think, grinning at the thought of Cato's awful pet name.

I surface once more and push my hair out of my eyes, looking around to see Cato standing on the bank, eyebrow raised challengingly, arms folded over a chest that is bare.

As is the rest of him…except for those black short briefs he's wearing.


I swallow slightly and dive down to hide my blush once more, swimming towards him and coming up out of the water nearby.

"Well?" I ask, arching my eyebrow in return, trying desperately to hold onto my composure, "Coming in?"

"I trust you will not let me drown?" He drawls, but his feet slowly move into the water towards me, until we are standing waist deep in the cool water, rain falling over us, "That would be an anticlimactic end to this…"

"You can trust me." I say with a smile, leaning up to kiss him lightly, "I'm a pro at this."

I draw him forward a few more steps and then coax him to lie down, my hand under the muscled curve of his back. It's a guilty thrill of pleasure, as I pull a face at my own silly internal flailing.

His eyes are closed though as he slowly lies back, letting the water and my hands support him.

"This is so weird." He mutters one eye cracking open, "Really weird."

"Shut up and relax," I scold him, and he huffs a soft laugh and slowly his body relaxes against my hands.

Slowly, I ease back, the hands slowly dropping away. Slowly he floats there on his own, seemingly unaware that he is in fact floating all on his own.

"Cato," I say softly, "Open your eyes."

He opens them slowly, and his head turns slightly, seeing me a few paces away. They widen and his limbs flail, causing his body to bow and submerge slightly. I dart in, helping him to his feet with a laugh as he growls at me about what a terrible teacher I am for leaving him.

"You were doing it on your own." I point out, "You didn't need me right there."

"Again," he tosses his head, brushing water out of his eyes, "Let's try it again."

Cato proves to be nothing if not a determined student. He's floating alone by his third attempt, and beginning to swim properly only a little while after. He's a bit of a natural at it, something I make the mistake of telling him.

He's insufferable about it from then on. Preening and smirking.

I roll my eyes at him and dive down, coming up under him to poke his belly.

He grabs at me, and hauls me to the surface, snorting softly as I laugh at him.

We play in the water for a while, just a young man and young woman, laughing and joking around, splashing one another and racing through the water. He cheats, by grabbing my ankle and hauling me back.

But after a while we just come back to floating, looking up at the grey sky as the rain lightly falls over us.

I look around as suddenly I feel warm, large, hands gently cup my back, and I smile up at him as he stands beside me, waist deep in the water.

"Hey," He says gruffly.

"Hey," I reply, smiling up at him softly.

He leans down and kisses me, and it's the most perfect moment I think I've ever had.

We risk a small fire in our cave that evening, cuddling by it quietly, wrapped together still in our underwear, under the blanket Finnick sent us. We share stories of our home Districts, Cato making me laugh as he tells me about his home, and the time he, Clove and the others spent at the Academy there.

He tells me about his father, who had been so proud when Cato had shown Tribute Aptitude. He sounded cold to me, but it was clear Cato had never really considered that a father could be anything else.

He talks about his mother, and his voice softens slightly. He thinks she is the most beautiful woman in the world, and I can tell she is the one he was most loathe to disappoint. He tells me about his sister, who he calls heinous, and his two brothers, twins. All of them had gone through the Career Academy. Only Cato had become a Tribute.

I tell him about my parents, about our little weatherboard cottage near the sea, of the family evenings together. I tell him about my father who is a harbour master, organising ships and stock and inventory. I tell him about my mother who is skilled at weaving ropes and netting. I tell him about the repository, and the people I see working there. About Old Beckett and his endless sea shanties, some of which are too rude to sing in public. About Lusane and her endless patience and soothing singsong voice.

Finally we both fall silent, content, cuddled together by the fire.

"Do you think they would like me?" Cato asks slowly, his voice soft, "Your family, and your friends?"

"I think so," I look up at him, seeing the pensive look on his face, "Why?"

"I've…killed people." He reminds me quietly, "Children, like us. I did not mourn them or regret their ends…it's accepted in District 2… but your home…"

"We do not…train a Career mentality as you do." I say carefully, but I gently kiss under his jaw, "But they will like you."

"Why?" he says it softly, face turning slightly so my lips brush the corner of his mouth, "What makes you so sure?"

"You saved me." I remind him, "Twice. You've spared my life more times than I can count. You've been kind to me, protected me. You loved Clove as a sister, you treated Darrien and Marvel as kin…you are brave and loyal. So you thought another way…it doesn't define you."

"Cheesy," he murmurs but his lips curl up, I can feel them against my own, "My mother will like you."

"Yeah?" I murmur, kissing the corner of his mouth again, "I hope so."

"She will." Gently his hand lifts, tilting my head up just a tiny bit more until his mouth finds mine.

We kiss for ages, mouths slowly discovering one another, fearing no time limit or approaching impediment. This is the first time we've truly been able to savour one another without the future looming in our way.

We have a hope now, of a future together, maybe in District 4, or maybe in District 2. I imagine life with Cato, and it is never dull, never boring. He is so full of life, intelligence and fire. He's smart without being snotty, brave without being stupid, and the way he holds me, makes me feel like I am something precious to him.

Shifting around we settle with him leaning back against the stone, and me curled up in his lap, huddled together as we kiss and nuzzle one another.

This isn't about domination any longer, or about pain, or loss, heartbreak and suffering. We are no longer fighting against one another or with one another, we are simply being one, being together.

His fingers slowly work though my long, damp, tangled hair, gently teasing through the strands as his lips caress mine, and his hand rests against my neck, the thumb gently stroking over the pulse point there.

He says softly that he loves it because he can feel me alive, feel my heart beating against his fingers. It's reassuring, and the fact I allow him near that vulnerable place…is very pleasurable.

My head rests against his shoulder, eyes half closed as it tilts, allowing his lips to find mine, again and again, gently claiming my mouth as his own.

One of my hands is resting against his abdomen, fingers gently touching the warm, smooth skin, idly stroking there, needing to touch him. The other is cradled in his larger hand, the fingers gently intertwined.

We stay like that for hours, just breathing one another in, but eventually, reluctantly we have to move, to pull on our clothes and bank the fire before settling down for a small meal and then slipping into our rough, makeshift bed.

He curls around me as always, and it makes me smile at how familiar his warmth is becoming, how safe he makes me feel.

Gently his mouth kisses my neck, soothing and slow as we slowly relax against one another.

His hand strokes the plane of my stomach, slightly sunken in from the lack of food in recent weeks, where normally there would be a natural womanly curve to it. He nuzzles into the nape of my neck and settles there, slowly drifting asleep.

Eventually I follow, my mouth curling up.

It's been a perfect day, one without the pain of the Hunger Games looming over us. We've been able to be just us, just Sky, just Cato. A young man, a young woman. It may not have been what the Gamemakers expected of us but screw them.

This was our day.

Tomorrow we'll return to the Games.

And we'll be stronger for having had today.

Chapter Text

The next day the storm has blown over and I decide to go foraging for food upon waking. Cato is still sound asleep in our rough bed, head pillowed on his arm, face more relaxed in sleep than I have ever seen it on waking. I can't help but press a soft kiss to his mouth, feeling his soft lips curl upwards in his sleep.

"I'll be back soon," I breathe and head out, taking a deep breath of the clear air.

I have to go further afield for foraging now, I've picked bare the woods nearest to my home and even though I'd planted a few seeds from the nuts and berries, I doubt they will grow in time to feed me in this arena.

So I wander deeper into the forest, my solitary remaining hunting knife in my belt.

I walk for a good fifteen minutes before I find anything and even then it's just one of the white tubers, rich but small. Too small for a proper meal.

"Got anything to eat?" A voice comes from nearby, and I look around, recognising the voice.

It's Teesa and she looks awful.

Clearly the young woman hadn't been able to find some good shelter from the storm yesterday and last night. She looks tired, and drawn, damp and dishevelled, and her skin has the pallor of someone who has caught one of those sicknesses that has you sniffling and snuffling for days. She's also painfully thin by this point, not having any food supplies for a few days and living on limited rations before that.

She looks at me through large amber brown eyes, which are tired but still sharp, still measuring.

Silently I offer her the solitary tuber I've found so far.

She wolfs it down eagerly, sighing with pleasure at the feeling of having something in her belly.

"Thank you." She says softly, glancing up at me again, "You did not have to do that."

"I know…" I reply and sigh softly, "You didn't have to fix my ribs either."

We look at one another and then Teesa chuckles raspily, "Look at us…half wild, grubbing for food like wild beasts."

"The Hunger Games aren't supposed to be easy." I point out with a light chuckle, "One Victor and all that."

"Two this time." She looks at me, "You and Cato…or so you hope."

"Yes." It hurts, saying this to her face, knowing that if Cato and I survive to become Victors it means walking over her corpse. But she just nods slowly.

"I won't be the one to kill you." She says slowly, "I suppose I could try…right now but…I do not want you dead."

"I don't want you dead either Teesa." I take a step towards her, "I've always considered you a friend."

"You always were foolish like that." Teesa takes a step back, shaking her head with a wry chuckle, "And now you've infected me with the same thoughts."

"Teesa…" it breaks my heart to see this girl, this smart, brave, intelligent, bright girl, reduced to this hungry, half wild creature, "Stay…we can find some food."

She shakes her head slowly, a sad smile on her lips, "No. I won't take from you. Maybe Katniss and Peeta have some food; I don't mind stealing from them."

"Teesa," I reach for her, unhappy to see her in this state, "Please, just come back with me. We'll find food and go back…"

"Cato will kill me." She says it slowly, but her voice is regretful, "And he would be right to. You care too much Sky."

"It's not a crime to care about you!" I shout it, exasperated, "I'm so sick of everyone treating me like I'm some kind of invalid for caring if you live or die, or if you're happy or unhappy."

"You're in a game of who is the better killer Sky." Teesa shrugs slightly, "Not the better lover."

And she vanishes into the woods.

I run after her, even though I know it's no good and after a while I come to a stop, looking around me at the still woods, and I give a low sigh.

"It's about who is the better survivor," I say softly, repeating Finnick's lesson from the Capitol, where he had given me hope of my own survival.

But she has vanished, disappearing into the woods like a spectre. I have never met anyone so gifted at vanishing and appearing where required.

Slowly I move off again, foraging and scooping up nuts and the berries I recognise as well as some mushrooms and more of the tubers.

I almost have enough for two hungry tributes when someone else finds me.

"Looking for something?" A voice asks from nearby and I twist in surprise to see Peeta, standing there, a small knife in his hand. The sound of his approach had been deadened by the sound of the rushing water, the river which I was going to use to trail my way back to the waterfall, "Sky."

"Peeta," I'm relieved to see he's better, colour in his cheeks and his leg seemingly unharmed, "You look well."

"Katniss patched me up," the knife slowly lowers as he sees me make no move towards my own, and the blue eyes soften, "Sorry about the last time I saw you."

"You mean knocking me out with a block of wood?" I touch my head and give him a wry smile, "I can't say it was the most pleasant sensation."

"Sorry," he grins slightly, walking forward a pace, "You would have hauled me off to fuss over me…I needed to find Katniss. Though I failed at that too, she found me in the end." His face softens even more, and although it makes my chest pang at the thought that it's between him and Cato, Katniss and I to survive, I am glad to see the look in his eyes.

"You love her," I say softly, and he looks up at me in surprise, "You really love her."

"Yeah…" he shrugs, a bit bashfully, "Crazy huh?"

"You have no idea," I smile at him, "It's nice though. Cute."

"Shut up." He flaps a hand at me and walks the final few paces to pull me into a hug.

I hug him back, breathing him in, feeling the soft tickle of his soft blond hair against my neck, the solid strength of him holding me. Peeta was my first friend in these games, the first who wasn't my own District partner. He'd opened up to me, given me a chance, and had made me feel less alone, both in the training centre and in those heart pounding first minutes in the games where we ran together for our lives.

I realise then that I've missed him, and tears spring to my eyes, dripping onto his shirt.

"Hey," he soothes gently, "Hey now…what's this? Where's the Sky who threatened to shove a fishing trident somewhere painful into her meddling mentor?"

That makes me give a weak chuckle and I wipe my eyes slowly, "It's just been such a long two weeks." I sigh, looking up at him, "I'm so tired Peeta, I just want to go home."

"I know…" he kisses my forehead lightly, "I know. I saw…I saw Darrien's…" he waves upwards, meaning the nightly account of the Fallen, "I'm sorry. He was a good guy; he was always kind to me. Treated me like I belonged."

"That's him for you." I feel my throat close up and I cough roughly, trying to push away the choking emotions, "Thank you Peeta."

"Have you been alone?" he asks, face concerned, "This whole games?"

"No," I shake my head, "People have helped me."

"Good." He strokes my hair, then tugs me close again and we just stand together, arms enfolded around one another. "I missed you, you know."

"I missed you too," He kisses my forehead and I just close my eyes feeling safe, "This is so messed up."

"Yeah…" His hold tightens slightly, "I hate this."

"Me too…"

We stand there just for a few moments more before slowly we pull back from one another. It's been a comfort for both of us I think, this contact, the feeling of being held. Even if we both know the only way out of this nightmare is over the body of the other.

"I should go," I say softly, "I've got to get back,"

"Yeah, Katniss will be back soon," He pulls a face, "We wouldn't want to kill you, you know…but.."

"I know…" and I do know. It's not my game, but it's certainly everyone else's, "Peeta?"

"Yeah?" he looks back around at me.

"Be careful." I say softly, and he smiles coming back over to hug me tightly once more.

"You too."

And then we part, me walking slowly down the river-way and him washing his face in the water. I've not gone far, when suddenly a cannon booms out across the Arena and I freeze.


"Cato!" I break into a dead run, crashing through the underbrush, through the grass and leaves and plants until I came tumbling out into the clearing above the waterfall. I look around desperately, sliding down the rocks, almost falling in my haste.

He's not here.

He's not in the cave, he's not in the clearing, and he's not in the water.

I even check the bottom of the lagoon, diving deep to see if he tried swimming alone and drowned. Nothing, not even a hint of him, and now I'm standing on the banks of the lake, dripping, almost hyperventilating, terror filling me.

Everything is blurring, the panic affecting my eyes and making even the trees awash with blurring.


And then he's there suddenly, his strong arms wrapping around me, lifting me up against him and his mouth finds mine in a deep, panicked kiss. I kiss him back frantically and then suddenly he pushes me away, shaking my shoulders roughly.

"Where were you!" He roars, face flushed. Everything is coming back into focus now, and I can see his face, eyes wide and slightly wild, as he shakes me again, "I checked all your traps! And then the cannon went off! Sky! Do you even know….you can't just."

"Cato…" my eyes well, even though I know he's not shouting because he's really angry. I'm just emotional, wrung out from the panic of thinking that I'd lost him, that I'd lost him because I'd left him here. Which is ridiculous. He's Cato, deadly Tribute, but…still. There were only five of us left…now there are four…and I couldn't have been sure. What if Katniss had killed him too?

"Fuck, don't…" he shakes my shoulders again and then tugs me in for a tight hug, "Don't."

We just cling to each other, there in the warm arena air, breathing each other in, relieved for now, that both of us are okay.

We wait outside for the evening to fall, holding each others hands as slowly the night sky appears above us. And then after what seems an eternity, the seal shimmers into view, along with the Panem anthem, and the words; The Fallen.

It hangs there for long moments, tormenting us, before shimmering out of view and I see Teesa's intelligent amber eyes gazing down at me.

The breath shudders from my lungs, and my knees weaken slightly.

She's dead. Teesa, my friend, my former ally, is dead. Her bright wit, her sharp mind, all that potential, that fire, that brightness…snuffed out. For entertainment.

Her death is another raw wound, and every breath seems to grate across them, all these scars I'm getting. Zara, Darrien, Marvel, Clove, Teesa…

I look up at Cato, who is frowning slightly as he watches her little sly smirk, and then he seems to realise I'm looking at him and turns back to me.

"I could never remember her name."

"Teesa." I say softly, "Her name was Teesa."

He nods, "Teesa. She was a worthy opponent."

In that moment I'm grateful, so grateful. He could have talked about how Katniss and Peeta are the two remaining, a team like us. He could have dismissed her as unimportant, a nothing in the scheme of the game. Instead he gives her the highest honour he knows.

That of someone worth fighting.

"Thank you…" I say softly, and kiss him lightly, feeling him touch my throat gently.

"We'll remember her." He says gently, "We'll remember them all."

I nod, and together we stand, just looking up at the night sky, where the last remnant of the girl who had been my loyal friend had been.

In the morning we know instantly something is wrong.

For the past two and a bit weeks, I don't even remember the number of days any longer, I have fallen asleep to the sound of the water rushing outside my cave.

When we wake, there is silence.

"What's wrong?" Cato's voice is groggy in the light morning air, as he sits up, "Why's the water stopped?"

"I don't know…" I get to my feet and pad to the front of the cave, where the water curtained us off from the world, and I gasp. Instantly Cato is up and beside me, and together we stare out at an empty hole where our lagoon, where our waterfall had been.

"They've drained the water." Cato's voice is harsh as he scowls down at the dry earth, "They're forcing us together."

"Driven by dehydration?" I feel sick at the depths of the Gamemakers manipulation, "Where do you think they want us to go?"

"Where else?" Cato turns back to the cave tugging off his jacket and sorting through our supplies, "The cornucopia. I bet the lake is still full there."

"They want a show down." I murmur, "Cato…I'm going to be next to useless out in the open…I'm practically that even in cover!"

"Stop that," He gives me a look, "I'm going to keep you safe."

He yanks open his pack from the Feast and tugs out some odd coloured metal, that he begins to strap on himself and I realise after a moment that it is armour.

"Your sponsors sent you armour?" I marvel, reaching out to touch the hard, smooth plates, "That's incredible."

"They sent Clove some too," He points at the second bag with the number 2 emblazoned upon it, "Put it on."

I do as he says, untying to second bag to tug out the smaller and lighter armour. It moulds better, giving more flexibility, but probably less all round protection. Still it suits me, just as it would have suited the small dark haired tribute it was made for.

I also tug out another vest of throwing knives, wickedly sharp things that Cato waves for me to pull on.

"I can't use them," I remind him, "I have absolutely no idea what to do with throwing blades."

"Sharp things are better than nothing." He tells me, strapping the glittering sword he'd been sent to his waist, "They may give one of the love birds pause."

It makes sense.

Once I am kitted out in the things that would have been Clove's, I reach out and tug open my own bag, the one with the 4, the one I'd been avoiding.

Tucked inside is a trident, which has a handle which elongates with a twist of the handle. It's a statement, something from Finnick, reminding me that I am his Tribute, that I am from District 4, and I breathe in a deep hissing gasp of gratitude. It's something ranged, something that will definitely give an attacker pause before charging.

Down the bottom of the pack I find one last thing and I smile slightly at the familiarity of the little blue tub.

It's body paint, blue body paint that will show on skin, be it underwater, in the darkness or hidden by clothing. We often have swimming races, this is to mark the swimmers so they can be found. People design marks to designate one from the other. It's primitive, tribal, and something our District holds to with pride.

Every Tribute from 4 who has made it to the final stage of the game has received a pot like this.

I unscrew the lid and move to scoop out some of the paint.

"No," Cato is watching me, and his eyes are fixed on the tub. It seems he knows the custom, which doesn't surprise me. He's studied the game; he would know every Tribute from 4 to make it this far has gotten one, "Let me."

Slowly I hand it over and close my eyes.

Normally the tribute would make warrior markings, straight lines, threatening, displaying their bravery and strength.

Cato's finger is slow as he traces from the corner of my eyebrow at the bridge of my nose, up over my forehead in a delicate curve, before mimicking it on the other side. His design is slow, careful, elegant and flowing. And when I open my eyes I wish I could see myself, because the expression on his face is one of pure lust.

"You look ready." He says.

"I am ready." I reply, but then I catch his arm, taking back the pot, "But you aren't. Hold still."

I paint him with my District's colours, the shimmering blue that catches his icy eyes and makes him look even more handsome and dangerous than he already did. I paint him as a warrior, strong lines, curving faintly, because even at it's strongest, water flows. Cato is like the granite from his district, the hard masonry stone. But he has learned to bend.

When my finger drops, I swallow at the sight of him, and I know my eyes must reflect what he'd felt after painting me.

"Now…you are ready." I say softly.

"We are ready." He replies, lifting my hand to his lips.

We do not get far, a quarter of the way around the lake perhaps, before suddenly the midday light begins to fade, darkening towards night.

"What is going on?" I whisper to Cato, clutching at the trident and glad of the paint, which glitters in the moonlight, revealing Cato to me.

"The GameMakers want this to end." He rumbles back, slowly drawing his sword, "It's time for the climax of their work of art."

"I don't like the sound of that." I mutter and then freeze as a growl fills the air, "I don't like the sound of that either!"

We turn, moving back to back and scan the woods around us, scanning the forest. I've never heard anything like that growl before, and I've been wandering these forests for the entire time. The Gamemakers have a surprise, and I'm sure it's one I will loathe.

And I'm right.

With baying howls, four wolves suddenly leap out of the shadows, lunging at Cato.

"Fuck!" he shouts and slashes at them, before shoving me forward, "Run, RUN!"

We run, feeling that primitive fear of being hunted coursing through us. The wolves are huge, great slavering beasts that howl as they race after us. For once I have the advantage over Cato, I am faster than him, especially in his armour, and I lead us through the forest, leaping over logs. He can see my movements; follow me exactly, the paint guiding his way.

He grunts behind me, and for a moment I fear the beasts have hurt him, but a wild look around reveals him running behind me, unharmed.

"Arrow!" he shouts, and nods to the left, where I suddenly see two other shapes racing.

Katniss and Peeta.

We break into the clearing of the Cornucopia and it's a dead sprint there to the golden horn. I reach there first and then Cato is behind me, grabbing me bodily as he throws me upwards. I grab the ridge and haul myself up, before reaching down, offering him my hand.

He grabs it and jumps, getting most of the way up anyway, and I drag him onto the metal, and we lay there gasping, rolling away from the edge.

"Fuck…" he pants, looking at me, "You alright?"

I nod and then suddenly Katniss is there, bow in hand, face wild as she shoots back down at the animals racing after her and Peeta. Rolling over I see that there is not just the one, or the small group I thought I'd heard. No there is a whole pack…20 of them.

The number rings in my mind, but I ignore it in favour of watching Peeta, hobbling desperately as he tries to climb up and Katniss and I both lean down, reaching for him.

For a second our eyes meet, her grey ones desperate, and we are both in sync. Neither of us wants Peeta to die. Not like this.

So we haul him up together and our combined strength is enough to yank him away as he screams, a wolf muttation having taken a chunk out of his leg.

"They're the Tributes." Katniss is sobbing, grabbing my hand and pointing out certain wolves. "Look!"

And after a sickening moment I realise she is right.

There is Thresh, a monsterous black wolf with snapping, human brown eyes, Thresh's eyes. And then there is a small dark grey one with dark eyes, Clove, all lean and lithe. I look around desperately and then my heart seems to stop as my eyes meet a pair of blue wolf eyes.


The cry that leaves my throat is wretched, heartbroken, and if I hadn't already been crouched on the metal I would have fallen.

Beside him is a lithe dark brown mutt with hazel green eyes. The two of them prowling together. Still together.

Are there more than just the eyes to the muttations? Do they contain some of the Tributes feelings too?

Then suddenly Peeta is flying back and I see Cato has regained some of his breath and has grabbed the younger male, holding him in a headlock, blue eyes cold.

"This ends here." He growls, even as Katniss draws her bow, aiming it at his head.

"No!" I shout, lunging at her.

"Shoot me and he goes down with me."

Katniss' face works with absolute fury, eyes snapping and then suddenly her bow swings around, and the arrow is focused on me, the vulnerable skin of my neck.

"Release him, or I'll kill her right now."

"No," Peeta manages to strangle out, "Katnisss…"

Cato's face is set in stone, the blue lines on it glittering, and then his eyes turn towards me, our eyes meeting.

We stare at one another for a long moment, and that's all the time Katniss needs.

The arrow shoots through the air, punching into the join of shoulder and neck, just above the armour, and I scream. A second later another arrow whizzes through the air, sprouting in Cato's hand.

It seems to happen in slow motion, Cato releasing Peeta, and the boy shoving his opponent back.

For a second my lover is suspended in the air, our eyes meet, and then he is gone, and I hear him hit the ground with a thud.

For a second I am frozen, horror gripping me and then my throat opens in a heartrending howl.

"CATO!" I scream it, agony ripping through me as I lurch to my feet.

Another arrow shicks through the air, punching into my side at the join of the mesh armour, Katniss obviously thinks that I'm going to attack.

But that is not my intention.

Five steps is all it takes before I reach the edge of the Cornucopia and slide off it to drop down on the ground, on the grass, beside Cato, who is fighting viciously.

"Sky! What the hell are you doing!" Peeta screams it above me, and I glance up to see his pale face. But then the wolves are upon me.

I have my trident and I use it to knock a leaping beast back. Then Cato is there, pushing me behind him with a snarl as he slashes with his sword.

One of the wolves snarls at him, and he howls back, ferocious and not backing down.

"You want to dance!" He roars it at the animals, "You want her? You have to get through me first!"

It's brutal and bloody and I struggle against them too, using my trident to keep them at bay even as we move, shifting together to edge around the cornucopia. We can't last forever…we have to get back up.

We get so close.

We can see the lip, where we can climb up, it's right there. And it's right there that four of the monsters charge at once and knock Cato to the ground. Instantly they are on him, even as I scream and lunge in to stand above him, laying about me with my trident.

I could run, they would be distracted, but…

That's not me.

This is my choice.

"You will not have him!"

One animal bares his teeth at me, and I recognise the wild eyes of the insane tribute from 10. He is snarling at me, slowly edging forward, almost taunting me before suddenly something charges out of nowhere, knocking him back.


The black wolf puts himself solidly between me and the one from ten, snarling lowly in his throat, hackles raised. Slowly the dark brown wolf that was once Marvel joins him, covering our left flank, giving Cato's ankle a brief lick. Then a red tinted fox like wolf steps from the pack, stepping beside me proudly, amber eyes sharp with intelligence.

Then a small wolf with golden fur and bright eyes, Zara, circles around to join us, as does the grey Clove. And then finally the great dark brown wolf that is Thresh steps over to us and growls at the animals remaining.

They mill, confused, and then with a snarl they attack.

It's bloody and fierce with fur flying around us. The others have numbers. Fourteen on seven, with two humans.

Zara is the first to fall, whimpering as the two beasts from seven rip at her. I try to get to her, but can't leave Cato, and she melts away into the ground. A few of the enemy wolves fall and then it is Teesa who is next, taken down by the pair from eight and one from nine. A pack of them take out Thresh, even though he kills a few of them before he melts into the ground.

Clove howls as she is tackled by the boy wolf from five and three, followed by Glimmer who rips her throat out with a snarl of pleasure.

Then it is just us, just Cato and me, and Marvel and Darrien.

Marvel is torn apart and Darrien with him as he races to his rescue. And then the remaining wolves turn on us, circling us and attacking. I scream as one gouges my side where Katniss' arrow pierced the armour, and Cato turns towards me.

It's that second of inattention, that brief moment where his care for me weakens him, like it did on the Cornucopia.

With a howl of triumph the wolf from 10 charges, and knocks Cato to the ground, lunging in and savaging at his neck.

"NO!" I scream it and without another thought I charge forward myself, spearing the wolf and knocking it away. I cover Cato with my own body, my hands covering his throat, staunching the blood with just a ripped fragment from my shirt. His eyes are hazy as he gazes up at me, as the wolves close in around us.

But it is not quick.

Oh no.

Where is the show in a quick death?

They play, slowly tearing the armour from me with their sharp claws, tearing chunks from my back as I hunch over Cato, protecting his vulnerable throat with my body.

My screams of agony seem never ending, even as Cato loses consciousness underneath me, as his blood stains the grass.

It is agony, pure agony and I scream and scream to the heavens.

I don't have to hold it in. Let them hear.

There is nothing but the pain, nothing but the agony, the fire searing through me with every measured bite, every intentional scratch, every tormenting gush of my life's blood the Gamemakers wring from me.

The world swims before me, and slowly darkness seems to be coming. Blessed darkness, the darkness of death.

It is almost a welcome sight.

But it doesn't come.

I don't hear the chiming at first. But then suddenly it seems like the air is full of it, and the wolves seem to pause.

I look up, eyes blurry, and blink at the sight that greets me.

Sponsor gifts, thousands of them.

They all fall from the sky, towards us, some with 2 on them, some with 12, but many with 4. They fill the air with their chimes, drowning out the sounds of the wolves' confused whimpers.

I stare at the heavens, feeling unconsciousness reaching for me even as more and more sponsor gifts fill the sky.

Just as the darkness swamps me, I hear the shaking voice of Claudius Templesmith, the announcer of the Games.

"Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the Victors of the 74th Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark of District 12, Cato DuGrey of District 2 and Schuyler Cavendish of District 4!"

And then everything is black.

Chapter Text

The first thing I see when I open my eyes is Finnick.

He's leaning over me, sea green eyes concerned, bronze hair dishevelled and messy like he's been running his hands through it, but the instant he notices I'm awake his face splits into a relieved grin.

"Sky," he says and leans down to kiss both of my cheeks, "Sweet cheeks, no Tribute has ever given me a grey hair before you."

"It was blond," Mags dry voice comes from nearby and she moves into my line of sight, her creased old face soft as she smiles at me, "Hello love, welcome back."

"What happened?" I ask, my voice raspy, "I remember the wolves, the sponsor gifts…what happened?"

Finnick and Mags glance at one another and then they turn back to me, both of them looking serious.

"To be honest," Mags shakes her head, "Even we know only a little. The order to stop the Games before the Muttations killed you and Cato…it came from President Snow himself."

"We don't know his reasons," Finnick looks solemn, an unusual look for him, "But we can discuss that later."

"But-…" I hate being left in the dark, but I see Finnick's eyes flick briefly towards the corner of the room. It seems the Capitol, like the Arena, has eyes and ears everywhere, "What about Cato? Is he alright?"

"He lost a lot of blood," Mags gentle hand with her knarled fingers slowly strokes my hair, "He's recovering, like you are. Like Katniss and Peeta are."

"Can I see him?" I feel on edge without him, like danger is lurking, but the presence of my two mentors, who I respect and trust, is soothing the raw feeling.

Finnick shakes his head, "The Recap show is in a few days time, they want the first time the two pairs of lovers to see each other to be on that stage. Everything's a show."

I look at him, and he smiles sadly down at me.

"So…the recap show." I shudder slightly, "I have to watch it? All over again."

"Yes love." His voice is kind, "And then the final interviews are the day after. The recap show will have all four of you together, but they are doing the interviews with just Katniss and Peeta, and then you and Cato."

"And then the day after that we'll be going home." Mags' voice is gentle, "You'll feel better then."

I look at Finnick, whose eyes are locked onto my face, but I don't think he agrees with Mags. I've changed so much; I doubt anyone who has survived the Games has returned the same person they were before they left. Finnick understands, I can see it in his eyes. He knows me best, he knows who I am, and he knows the fears that plague me.

It's my biggest remaining fear.

There is nothing more frightening than feeling like you're a stranger in a place that you used to call home.

"We'll see you tomorrow." Mags kisses my cheek, whisper light, "Relax…I'll send someone in with a good meal for you."

She moves towards the door, but as Finnick turns to go, I feel panic claw up my throat. They are going to leave me in this white, sterile room. In that moment the smooth walls and almost reflective lights are more terrifying than the darkest nights in the Arena. I grab at his hand hating how weak I am feeling, "Don't leave me."

A spasm of something crosses his face and Mags pauses in the doorway before quietly leaving. Slowly he turns back to me, and his hand comes up to cover the one clutching him.

"I won't leave you."

It's days later that I stand in my bedroom of the Tribute tower, quietly letting Felvia and her team fuss over me in preparation to being presented to the Capitol crowds.

I've gained a little weight during the days in the hospital, my ribs no longer being quite as pronounced, my cheekbones and jaw no longer quite so sharp against my skin. The skin itself has been polished and smoothed, all scars wiped from my body, like the Games never happened.

My prep team twitter about the games, talking about it like the television event they see it as. They don't seem to realise they are talking about young men and women who were once living and breathing much like they were. It's not until they start gushing about Darrien and Marvel that Felvia looks up at my face and sees my eyes fill with tears.

"Hush your foolish gossiping," she snaps at Demia, Nepture and Galcus. I'd remembered Demia, but the other two I couldn't have remembered their names if my life had depended on it, "The girl has enough on her mind without your witless prattle."

They are silent for a long moment and then they start muttering to one another again, talking about Katniss and Peeta, and I catch Felvia's eye.

"Thank you," I mouth and she gives me a warm smile, leaning up to kiss my cheek.

"Never you worry dear."

After my body has been smoothed to perfection, my hair glossed and my makeup carefully applied, Felvia steps forward with a garment bag.

"I designed this for you during the last few days of the Arena." She says softly, watching me, "After you saved Teesa from drowning."

I close my eyes and nod, letting them move my limbs and gently tug cloth over my head. It doesn't take long, and then Felvia says softly.

"Open your eyes."

Slowly I do, and once again, I blink at my reflection.

The dress is made of the softest material I think I've ever touched, so gentle that it feels like a whisper against my skin. It echoes Finnick's and Felvia's old name for me, the Lady of the Lake, with a gathered bodice cinched with a pale gold belt, and draping sleeves that fall openly around my upper arms, leaving the rest of the limb bare. The skirt seems almost to float, like I'm gliding, and once again my feet are bare. Resting among my curls are long strands of tiny, winking stones, like diamonds, and they curl up around my head and over my forehead.

I look beautiful, but also kind of ethereal, like I am not wholly real. Like a good breeze will blow me away. I me. In the Parade and at the interviews I looked like some kind of mythical creature, but this…this looks like the woman, the Lady…not the legend.

And I think it is no accident that this time the colour chosen for me is white.

I glance at Felvia and see that she is smiling warmly at me, as are the preparation team.

"My lady," Finnick's voice comes from the doorway, and I see him there, looking dashing in a white dress shirt and black pants, green eyes soft, "It's time."

"First Flickerman will introduce the style teams, then the escort and then the mentor of each of the Districts 2, 4 and 12." Finnick murmurs to me as we walk under the stage, "Then he'll call Katniss and Peeta up…they'll have their reunion and then it'll be you and Cato."

I nod and he squeezes my hand.

"You look beautiful, and don't worry. Remember all those sponsor gifts? The Capitol love you, and they love you and Cato. The whole place has been abuzz with discussions and arguments about the two pairs of lovers. You have many supporters, trust me."

I nod again and he pulls me to a stop on the plate that will carry me up onto the stage.

"During the recap." He cups my cheek, "Love…don't be afraid to cry. They don't expect you to be a cold hearted killing victor. They love that you feel. But…" he kisses my forehead, "if it gets too hard, find me in the audience…or let Cato help you. I'm sure he'd love to give you some comfort."

And he wiggles his eyebrows playfully, causing me to roll my eyes and smack at him.

"You're an ass."

"You love my ass. All the ladies do." He winks and kisses my cheek before moving off, "You can do this Sky. I believe in you."

And then I am alone, looking at the screen before me, showing what is happening out there on the stage.

Caesar Flickerman strides out, receiving his cheers with his natural smiling charm, bowing and laughing before waving out Cato's style team, who get a warm round of applause. It is followed by louder, wilder cheers for Felvia and her team, and then thunderous cheers for the team from 12. The fire was a hit, and I can see throughout the crowds, that new fashion has begun to roll through.

There is a lot of red, red, gold and orange. But there is also a lot of blues, like water, which makes me smile. Darrien was right, all that time ago. The Capitol love their symbolism, fire vs water.

Flora and the other escorts are welcomed onto the stage and they twitter helplessly, clapping and waving at the crowd with delight. The woman who was Katniss' and Peeta's escort seems particularly thrilled. After all…12's last victory was a long time ago…she mustn't have thought she'd ever have a moment like this…let alone for two Tributes.

Then there are wild cheers as the mentors walk out. A huge dark haired, heavyset man from District 2, whom I vaguely recognise, Haymitch Abernathy, the infamously drunk mentor for 12 and my Finnick, who sets hearts of both genders aflutter with his beauty and charm, smiling and waving.

I smile at the screen, hoping he is enjoying what is, essentially a moment of triumph.

It's only a few moments later that the crowd goes ballistic and I see Katniss, looking small, delicate and vulnerable in a shimmering yellow dress dash across the stage to kiss Peeta, who is holding a cane and who kisses her back.

Again I smile, another true grin. I'm so happy for Peeta, and so utterly thankful that my own life had not come at the expense of his. He deserves happiness, and now he can have it with the girl he loves.

I know there will be a price to pay, for us all to live. The President, Snow, doesn't show compassion. Not without a reason. And although the reason, unknown as it is, terrifies me…I know I will pay his price.

It takes a while, but eventually they part and move to sit on a small two seater which sits to one side of a single chair. There is another two seated chair opposite it, which I realise is for me and Cato. Once they are settled, Caesar Flickerman waves the crowd quieter.

"You know him as the fierce, dangerous Tribute from 2, and her as the lovely girl from 4!" he calls to the crowd and they begin to cheer, "But now they are Cato and Sky! Also the Victors of this year's Hunger Games!"

Slowly I start to rise and the light blazes around me, reflecting off the white dress and making me shine brightly. The crowd screams and I look up in time to see Cato, whole, shining, handsome Cato striding towards me. The look on his face makes my knees weaken slightly and I stumble towards him, reaching out.

We meet halfway and he holds me tight, lifting me against his solid chest. Our lips find one another's, and we kiss, letting the rest of the world fade out around us. Right now, nothing is as important as Cato, as the feeling of him holding me, his strong arms, his warm mouth and the softness of his fair hair.

Suddenly I feel safe. And the relief of it is indescribable.

Slowly he lowers me back down to the floor, but our kiss lingers until we have to part or pass out from lack of oxygen. We gaze at one another, and then Caesar is there, beaming warmly at both of us. The sound of the crowd filters in and we look out at all the sea of people clapping and cheering wildly.

As wildly as they had for Peeta and Katniss.

Cato shakes Caesar's hand but his other arm curls possessively around my waist, not letting me move too far from his side. I am not complaining however, as it is exactly where I wish to be.

Slowly we walk over to the other chair and I look around at Peeta and Katniss.

We move across from them and I catch Peeta's eye, and he grins at me, standing and walking a few careful steps forward, using that cane.

Ignoring Cato's possessive growl, which elicits whoops from the crowd, I move forward and into Peeta's arms, letting him embrace me in turn, which prompts yet more cheering.

It's followed by laughter and we look at our partners to see them shaking their heads at one another.

As if to say, no way am I hugging you.

Peeta laughs and then Cato stands, moving over beside me. For a long moment the two boys look at one another and then hesitantly, Cato holds out a hand. Instantly Peeta's face relaxes and he shakes it firmly, making Cato smile in return.

Finally we take our proper seats and Caesar fans himself.

"Well now! Those were some reunions, weren't they folks?" and the crowd cheers wildly, making him laugh once more, "Welcome Victors!"

I settle beside Cato and see Katniss tucking herself up against Peeta. It strikes me as odd, seeing her so…touchy feely. Katniss is a strong young woman, and I have no doubts that she cares for Peeta deeply, but…maybe I am still thinking like a Tribute, worrying that there is a spear, or arrow behind every tree.

Cato's arm drapes behind my shoulders on the chair, his fingers rhythmically caressing the sensitive skin of my upper arm. I lean into him, my head resting comfortably in the crook of shoulder and neck. We are not draped over one another quite as much as the other pair, but we are comfortable. This…is natural for us.

Caesar finally gets the audience to quiet and then the lights slowly dim, and the crest of Panem is emblazoned on the big screen in front of us. I know they are monitoring our faces, displaying the Victor reactions to the rest of Panem. Everyone is watching. It's compulsory viewing. The condensed 3 hour torture of recapping the years Hunger Games.

This time…my Hunger Games.

It begins with all the pageantry before the Hunger Games themselves. The Reapings', which I cringe at while Cato rumbles a chuckle. The Parade, showing Cato brave and strong next to Clove, me, flowing like water beside the awkward but still endearing Darrien and of course Katniss and Peeta holding hands above their heads. They show the other key players too. Teesa and Enbrin, Thresh and little Rue, Glimmer and Marvel…all of the familiar faces, all dead now. Then it's the training scores and the interviews. They show Peeta's confession of love, and my mysterious words about a Tribute affecting me, which makes Cato puff his chest a little, all smug.

That all takes about half an hour, and then we get into the Games.

From the first death in the bloodbath I begin to shake, watching as Cato and his Careers slaughter the Tributes who were foolish enough to try to fight. Marvel takes out four alone; Clove and Cato three, and Thresh got one. They show Darrien looking around frantically, clearly looking for me in the fight, and his relief when he realises I've vanished. They show Cato looking around too, but more clinically.

Then they cut to Katniss who crashes into Teesa before taking off into the woods.

They show Peeta and me, crouched just in cover, our conversation and then Teesa joining me as we watch Peeta join the Careers. We watch our deal and Cato gives me a look like he's impressed as Teesa and I pilfer their supplies. I just duck my head.

It hurts, watching, seeing Teesa, bright and lovely and bold. Her amber eyes full of light. And then it hurts worse.

Cato stabs Zara and I stiffen in my seat.

He tenses beside me as he watches me tumble into the scene, before Peeta joins us to end Zara's suffering. I can feel his blue eyes flicking towards me, but all I can see is that poor little girl, all of 13 years old, slowly suffering, dying because of a botched, cruel stab to the belly.

I hadn't even considered who was to blame. It hurt too much I think at the time, and then I had to focus on the here and now. To see it…

I shift slightly away from him and he whines softly, pulling me back.

He's watching me on the screen, screaming for Finnick, writhing in the agony of seeing an innocent's death. He looks tense, unhappy and then his gaze finds mine.

We look at each other for long moments and then I slowly relax against him once more.

It doesn't change anything. Not now.

The tape skims on, showing shots of Katniss, of Peeta leading the Careers away from her, of Cato leading them away from the lake, and of me eeking out my quiet little existence.

Then comes the Tracker jackers and my eyes lift to see Katniss staring as Peeta saves her, as Peeta is injured, as Cato collapses, as I rush in. We watch as I tear my coat apart to bind his wound and then the blow to the head, which makes Cato growl softly.

Then we alternate, Peeta running to the river and hiding himself, and me hauling Cato's unconscious form home with me. I can feel Peeta and Katniss staring at me, but I don't look up.

They show the full scene of Cato waking up, which makes him chuckle, and then they show Katniss and Rue.

The full scene of the showdown at the supplies is shown, every excruciating detail. Tears slowly begin to trail down my cheeks as I watch Darrien racing across the field towards me, my eyes frantic between Katniss and him, my scream as her arrow hits him, and the explosion.

We see Katniss crawl away, and Cato's hand tightens on mine as we watch Darrien die. We watch my grief, Marvel's grief, and then we watch the Careers go hunting. Cato is darkly furious, hell bent on vengeance, and the filmmakers contrast it with me sitting under the tree looking up at the seal, Teesa appearing beside me as I cry for my District partner.

They show Katniss hunting for Rue, whistling her little tune, and then hearing the little girl screaming for her.

Sniffs come from the audience as Katniss cradles the little girl, as I try to ease Marvel's suffering, and Cato tugs me even closer to his body.

From there it is just painful memory after another, as we watch Katniss and Peeta begin to fall in love, as we watch Cato and me making out in the forest in our desperate grief, as we watch the Feast. I wince as Thresh hauls me away, and then I watch, watch as Cato begs Clove to stay with him, his voice breaking as he holds her close.

Slowly I lift his hand to my mouth and kiss it.

We watch Katniss and Peeta healing as Cato and I face off against Thresh and Teesa, the fire and the river, and my choice to keep my humanity.

We watch as Katniss and Peeta kiss and talk and then Cato's and my perfect day.

Then comes the finale, Teesa's death, she ate the nightlock Peeta innocently gathered, and I look away as she crumples to the ground.

The finale is torturous. Watching Katniss and Peeta on the cornucopia, Peeta shouting, railing at Katniss to help to shoot some of her few precious arrows, to Katniss refusing.

"They're dead already. We can go home." She says, and I look across at her.

She doesn't regret her choice.

The citizenry whisper eagerly as my screams fill the air and Cato's face tightens even more as he watches me being slowly torn apart, protecting, shielding him. And then the sponsor gifts falling from the air, hundreds and thousands of them.

We are all declared Victors, and taken up into the hovercraft.

The video closes with Katniss screaming and throwing herself wildly at a screen where doctors work on Peeta. And then to Cato who is semi awake, reaching for me as I am whisked away from him, before being knocked unconscious.

Lights return and we stand slowly, Cato glaring at Katniss even as his arms lock even more protectively around me.

The President emerges onto the stage with four crowns, four very different crowns.

Cato's is made like a true Victor wreath. Katniss' like a feminine version, but instead of olive branches they are arrows. Peeta's is a solid circlet and mine is a delicate band of pale gold that he rests on my head.

"We have much to talk about you and I." he murmurs to me, eyes colder than a winter's storm on the sea, "I'm sure I'll see you before you go home."

I just smile and he nods approvingly before moving on.

But inside my guts are like ice.

What can he want from me?

I curl up in bed that night, feeling restless and cold.

My room is a perfect temperature, much warmer than the arena, and much warmer than the hospital room. But I'm missing the sounds of water rushing….and I'm missing the warmth of Cato holding me.

In the hospital, sleep was dreamless, the sleep of those drugged. But now I am out…all I can see is the parade of 20 tributes slaughtered. They march through my head, the blood filling my eyes as I toss and turn.

Suddenly the door cracks open and I sit upright, hand pushing my hair out of my face.

"Shhh…" the man walks in, and I relax the instant I hear his voice.

He slides into bed with me, his familiar scent, lighter now, and sweeter with capitol bath smells, curling around me, even as his arms draw me protectively back against his chest,

"Cato." I breathe.

"Sleep." He murmurs, tucking his head into the nape of my neck, making me relax even more, "I'm here now."

I mean to ask him why he's come. How he knew I needed him, but with him here, my body is shutting down.

And finally I'm able to find the peace I have been searching for.

Chapter Text

Cato is still asleep beside me when I wake in the morning.

His breaths are deep and even and I smile softly at the reassuring sound of his slow and steady heartbeat beating behind me. For a while I just listen to him, to those reassuring sounds of life but eventually I carefully slide out from under his protectively curled arm and pad into the bathroom.

There I relieve myself, have a quick shower and slip into some light clothes, before padding back into the bedroom, where I roll my eyes to see Cato is still asleep, almost exactly where I left him, except that he's tugged my pillow into his embrace, cuddling it close.

I'm so teasing him about that later.

I walk out into the main area of the apartment and find Finnick leaning against a wall there, a grin on his face.

"What?" I ask him, walking by him towards the table, where I scoop up some fruit to chew on.

"You two are adorable." He leans into me, with a fake lovesick sigh, "How can you stand being so sweet? It's making my teeth rot even just thinking about it."

"Shut up," I roll my eyes at him, a little grateful that he is acting like nothing has changed, that even though I'm no longer quite the girl I was, he still loves me, "We are not like that."

"Oh but you are." He drapes himself over the counter beside me, fake swooning, "I go to wake you up this morning and I find you both curled up together, all soft and cute and ergh…are you trying to make me ill?" he grins.

I just shoot him a look and chew a few more pieces of fruit.

"It if traumatises you that much. Don't come into my room." I drawl, smirking slightly.

"Pfft, we both know that's not going to happen." Finnick flaps a hand at me, "Besides I feel rather proud. After all without me, this little love of yours would have been crushed under the weight of both of your inabilities to communicate feelings to one another."

I remember his gentle guidance in the early days before the Arena, helping me to understand and not shy away from Cato. He helped me understand the man underneath the dominant jerk persona.

"I missed you," I say softly, and I see his face sober slightly and soften as he stands, "So much…"

"I missed you too love." And he reaches out with a fond sigh, tugging me into the circle of his arms, holding me close, "Even if you did give me regular heart failures just watching you in those games."

I chuckle softly, "I wasn't that bad."

"Not that bad?" he scoffs even as he kisses the top of my head, "Remember the grey hair?"

"Mags said it was blond." I murmur, "I believe her."

"More than me? I'm insulted."

"You're prone to exaggerate. And dramatise." I grin into his shirt.

"Lies and slander," he kisses my temple, "But I'm glad to have you back my little blue Sky."

We are interrupted by a very pointed cough and I turn slightly to see Cato standing in the doorway, arms folded and a scowl on his face.

"Sorry to interrupt." He growls, not sounding very apologetic at all, "I hope I'm not intruding."

"Cato!" Finnick gently moves me to the side and strides towards the younger man. He embraces him in a big hug which makes me cover my grin with my hand as Cato looks completely bemused by the action, "Welcome to the District 4 floor."

"Uh…thank you?" Cato looks at me helplessly and I shake my head. I'm not helping him this time; this is between him and Finnick.

I regret that choice a few moments later.

"Now, Cato," Finnick pulls back and gives Cato his brightest, sunniest smile, and instantly I'm wary, "Do you know what weapon I used in the Arena during my sojourn there?"

"Uh a Trident…" Cato says, shooting me another confused look.

"That's right pancake." Finnick claps a hand on his shoulder, "And as I'm sure you know a trident doesn't just have one point to it, it has three."

"Do you have a point?" Cato asks, rolling his eyes.

"Ooh sassy," Finnick laughs, "Yes I do Captain Sassypants. If you hurt my Sky I will shove all three of those sharp, sharp points where the sun doesn't shine."

I cover my face with my hand.

"Are you threatening me?" Cato sounds shocked; I don't think he's ever been threatened so cheerfully before.

"No of course not!" Finnick pats his cheek, "I'm giving you fair warning. Because you see, unlike my precious girl here, I have absolutely no compunctions about beating you like a dirty throw rug if you break her sweet little heart. So….treat her properly, or you'll realise just how I became the Victor for District 4. We clear?"

"Crystal." And Cato glances over at me, "Same goes. You hurt her and I'll break that pretty boy face."

Finnick positively beams.

"Oh he's a keeper," he says, turning back to me with a big grin, "You sure know how to pick them sweet cheeks."

I just shake my head at them as Cato moves over to curl an arm possessively around me.

They are so weird.

The interview is held in the sitting room of the apartment, and there is a small crew in there working quickly and efficiently when I pop my head in to look. Peeta and Katniss are being interviewed up on their floor, but when asked if he would prefer the interview to be held on the 2nd or 4th floor, Cato had been firm in is desire for it to be here.

I suspect he doesn't like being alone on the 2nd floor, just as I don't like being alone here. I haven't gone near the door to Darrien's bedroom yet, even seeing the door makes my eyes prickle. I think it's the same for him. I think he misses Clove.

Which basically means he's moved into the 4th floor, which Finnick seems fine with and Mags just shakes her head at.

Normally, if this were a normal Hunger Games victory interview, the Victor would leave after it was concluded. Head for a train, go home, try to forget about the Games until the Victory tour. But this time, with four Victors, things are being done a little differently.

Instead of last night, the Victors Banquet, held up at President Snow's mansion, has been pushed to this evening, and we are expected to attend, naturally. I've been told I'm expected to share at least one dance with Finnick and Peeta, and also Brutus, the male mentor for 2, as well as Haymitch, 12's drunken mentor. I'm also expected to share a number of dances with Cato…but they will have no objections from me about that.

Peeta and Katniss will be interviewed first upstairs, and then the bulk of the crew will travel down to us and will conduct our interview.

Felvia manhandles me in a knee length blue green dress, and my prep team pin my hair up carefully before Finnick knocks on the door.

"Sky, my jewel, my pearl, will you come walking with me on the roof? I fear if I don't whisk you away now while Cato is occupied, your Career will attempt to throw me out of a window. Bit jealous isn't he?"

"Stop tugging his tail and maybe he would be nicer." I say dryly, walking over to him, looping my arm through his, "You're terrible."

"I do my best," he says and guides me out of the apartment and up to the floor of 12. The stairs to the roof are the same, and so is the little garden and I sigh a little with relief. He guides me into the greenery and turns to me, his face serious.

"Okay, we can talk here. The wind and the windchimes make it impossible to be overheard."

I look around at him wide eyed and then I nod, remembering his hesitation to speak in the hospital, for fears of prying eyes and ears.

I nod at him and he takes my hands in his.

"There's a dangerous game afoot here Sky," he speaks quickly, knowing we won't have too long up here alone, "The Capitol didn't want Katniss to win, not with Peeta, and certainly not alone. They hoped that you and Cato would come out the better in the confrontation."

"But…why?" I ask, shaking my head in confusion.

"Because she has inspired something." Finnick takes my hands in his, "Rebellion."

"Rebellion?" I hiss back, feeling my stomach drop, "What are you talking about Finnick?"

"For a long time we've been readying ourselves," Finnick speaks quickly now, the words tumbling over one another, "Gathering weapons, soldiers… We've been ready for a while, but we've needed something, someone to push the Districts to the breaking point."


"They didn't show it in the recaps, but she buried that little girl from 11 in flowers, and farewelled her with honour. She volunteered for her little sister…she…is magnetic, you know people can't help but be inspired by her."

He's right. Even embittered as I am towards her, Katniss is certainly unforgettable, and oddly fascinating.

I nod.

"But Katniss, wasn't the only one who caught our eye." And Finnick touches my cheek softly.

"Me?" I stare at him and then I shake my head, "No…no you've got the wrong girl! Katniss yes I can understand but…"

"Sky." He cups my face in his hands, "Love, listen to me. Katniss is someone the people can follow, be impassioned by. They will worship her as a figure and they will do what she commands. But they won't love her. She doesn't inspire love, loyalty, compassion. You…have no idea how many people you touched Sky. Katniss inspired the Districts…but you reminded them how to love. You reminded the CAPITOL how to love."

"But…then how did we survive?" I ask, shaking my head, completely thrown by his words.

"President Snow knows about Katniss." Finnick shakes his head, "Hot heads, passionate and idiotic…well…let's just say he knows just what she's inciting. But he doesn't know about you. He gave the order to Seneca Crane, for the Games to end, because he sees you as the means to dampen Katniss' fire, so to speak."

I blink at him.

"The Capitol adores you, you and Cato. You are the golden couple, the Career from their beloved District 2, and the sweet girl who won the games with love instead of hate." He slides his hands down to my shoulders, "All those sponsor gifts, they wanted you safe. And so we filled the arena with them, even Brutus went along with it. Snow sees that…and he thinks you are suddenly more use alive than dead."

"Finnick…" my breath is coming short, panic beginning to creep up on me, "I can't…you've all…I'm not…"

"I know darling," he shakes his head, "It's insane…I know it is, but I need you to be aware, so you understand the stakes. If he thinks Katniss is inspiring rebellion against him, he'll kill her, and he'll kill Peeta and everyone she knows in 12. I need you, to be the sweet Sky we all love, and when he sends for you….I need you to agree to what he asks of you. Whatever it is…we'll do it together…I'll help you." He takes a deep breath, "This is so important Sky…a future without the Hunger Games…no more Tributes…no more death."

The thought makes my breath catch.

No more Hunger Games. I could have children of my own without fear of them being Reaped for the Capitol's entertainment. I could live a life of my own with Cato maybe…free of all of this. A future where a young man like Darrien, like Marvel, like Thresh, or a young woman like Teesa, or Clove, or Zara is not snuffed out needlessly.

It's worth fighting for.

I look up at Finnick and I can see the joy in his eyes as he reads the look on my face.

"Count me in."

"So Cato, tell me, when was the first moment you realised you had feelings for Sky here?"

We are sitting together, snuggling comfortably opposite Caesar Flickerman, and the questions are rolling. Cato chuckles and rubs the back of his neck awkwardly.

"Well that's a bit tough, it snuck up on me, I had no idea she was becoming so important to me." He glances at me and then smiles softly, "I think the moment I realised she meant something special was when I saw her being attacked by the boy from 10. Seeing her there…the feeling is indescribable Caesar," he tugs me a little closer, temple dropping to rest against my hair, "I thought I'd lost her. And it killed me."

I squeeze his hand gently and he lifts it to his lips.

"And Sky? What about you?" Caesar asks me kindly, "When did you realise your feelings for Cato?"

"It was gradual for me too," I say softly, looking up at Cato, who is looking at me intently now, "It started when I realised I couldn't let him die, after the Tracker Jackers. I mean, I could have just dragged him somewhere for the Careers to find…but…I took him home. But I think it really became real for me after Darrien died, and he helped me say goodbye." I smile softly and Cato nuzzles my cheek.

"That was a beautiful moment," Caesar agrees with a deep sigh, "We all know how close you were to your District partner Sky, Darrien meant a lot to you. Can you describe how losing him affected you?"

"It was like losing a limb," I admit, my eyes welling up despite myself and I laugh breathlessly, turning away slightly, "Sorry…"

"Don't apologise," Cato rumbles and his large hand turns my face back to him, his thumb stroking my jaw, "It's beautiful."

I smile at him and I hear someone behind the camera sigh softly.

"Darrien…was the brother I never knew I had," I say softly, turning back to Caesar, "Finnick too. He's like a brother to me. Losing him…it felt like it was my fault. He was coming to protect me…and it hurts…but…I know he would be so proud to see me here…alive and safe."

Caesar nods warmly and turns to Cato, "Cato, I have to ask. The Feast…" Cato tenses beside me, "Losing Clove, and having Sky taken by Thresh and the girl from 5…how did you feel when you heard Clove and then Sky scream?"

"Again…indescribable Caesar." Cato's face is tense and he looks down, "Clove was like the most annoying little sister ever. But she was family and losing her…like Sky said, it's like losing a limb. I have to watch her die and then I hear Sky screaming in the wheat fields…" he takes a shuddering breath and I kiss his jaw, reassuring him, "I was ready to take them both apart with my bare hands, Thresh and Teesa."

"I always forgot her name," Caesar chuckles slightly and turns to me, "You and…her were close Sky. And she made it so close to the end. Do you think she'd be happy for you?"

"She would." I smile slightly, thinking of Teesa, "She'd smack me about the head for being emotional, but…she'd be happy."

We're asked some more frivolous questions and then Caesar asks the final question, "So…what happens for you two now?"

I look up at Cato, my eyebrow arching, questioningly. He smiles back.

"Well, I believe the plan is to go to our own Districts for a little while," Cato says slowly, lifting my hand to his lips, "We miss our families something awful, but after that…I was thinking of perhaps migrating to 4. From what Sky tells me it's beautiful…and I don't think I could bear to take her away from the sea. But…who knows."

He looks at me, and he smiles softly.

"But what I know for sure is…she's mine. And I'm hers. And it's staying that way."

Chapter Text

Entering the Victor's Banquet, I gasp at the spectacular scene before me.

I've never seen anything like it.

The ballroom of the Presidential palace is the largest room I've ever seen, domed with what appears to be different coloured panes of glass, but which aren't transparent. The floors are a rich marble and the people swirl through the room like a flock of brightly coloured birds. The elite of the Capitol fill the room, mingling with the Victors of past Hunger Games, all of whom are required to be in the Capitol during the yearly pageant.

There are tables set around the room, as well as large long tables along one wall, full of food that could feed my District for at least a month. On a balcony above is a small ensemble of musicians who play soft music as we all enter.

Finnick is escorting me, with Cato having been told, in no uncertain terms that he was expected to escort Enobaria, the female mentor of his District. Clove's mentor. He hadn't been happy about it, but I think that was mostly because he calls Enobaria the heinous bitch, and he still gets ruffled feathers around Finnick.

Haymitch Abernathy has already escorted Katniss in, one arm linked with hers as he waves a server over with a drink. Out of the corner of my eye I see Finnick shake his head at the sight, but when I look at him questioningly, all I get back is a look of bland innocence.

It makes me roll my eyes and in doing so I glance up at the stairs we'd just descended.

Peeta walks in alone, having no female mentor to stand on his arm, and the sight of him, walking alone, still moving with that slight limp, still holding that cane, makes my chest ache a little. His head is lowered, his gaze tracking his next step, and he looks so alone, so forgotten as Capitol sponsors flock around Katniss and Cato.

No one is helping him.

I slip my arm out of Finnick's, ignoring his questioning look as I walk back up the entryway stairs, which Peeta is so painfully picking his way down. He looks up from his fixed concentration on the marble before him and smiles slightly when he sees me climbing the marble to join him.

"Sky, what are you doing?" He asks curiously, glancing over my shoulder. From the hush that's filled the hall behind me, I know that people are turning to look, but I ignore them.

"No one should have to face them alone." I murmur and step up beside him. His face softens into a warm smile and he offers me an arm, which I accept with a slight bobbing curtsey. It makes him laugh and slowly, taking it at his pace, we descend the stairs together.

I wonder what kind of a picture we make, Peeta in his black suit, and red tie, still very much the fire boy from District 12, and then me in the royal blue dress Felvia had practically sewn me into, the satiny material sliding over my skin like water, borrowed sapphires glinting around my neck and in my hair. Fire and Water, supposedly so different, but I've always felt safe with Peeta.

We make it to the bottom of the stairs and Peeta guides me further into the hall as Cato walks over, Katniss shadowing him. The two of them are stiff around one another, tense, and Cato never really lets her out of his sight behind him.

He doesn't trust her.

And he doesn't like Peeta escorting me, because he holds out a hand, the universal gesture asking me if I would like to join him. But I don't accept until I'm sure Katniss is stepping into her place at his side.

Peeta brushes my cheek lightly with a kiss, ignoring Cato's barely audible growl, and I smile at him as I step away to join my partner, rolling my eyes at the possessive hand resting on the small of my back.

"You know you have to stop assuming that every man who comes within reaching distance of me is trying to steal me away from you." I murmur in his ear, "Peeta is my friend."

"I don't mind Peeta," Cato grumbles, "He was a traitor but he was doing it with sort of understandable reasons. I don't like that he's attached to the bitch." He shoots a dagger like glare at Katniss' pale red gowned back, "I don't trust her."

"We're not in the Arena anymore Cato," I remind him quietly, "We're going to have to live with seeing her around us. As the co-victors of these Games we're going to be thrown together with them a lot."

His hand grips my arm, holding me still as he looms over me from behind.

"I can't forget what she's done." He growls, "She almost ruined everything. She refused to help us, help you when you were screaming."

I shiver, my temper prickling at the reminder of being torn apart by the Tribute wolves.

"Don't forget, but you have to forgive her."

"She killed Darrien," he hisses in my ear, "How can you just…"

I turn on him, snarling softly and he looks abashed, seeming to realise just how far over the line he had just stepped.

"You think I don't know what she did? That I've forgotten?" I grit out at him, "Screw you Cato, I just see the bigger picture. The Games are over. It's time to move on."

And I walk away from him, over to the food and drink tables, where I scoop up a glass of icy water and drink it.

My hands are still shaking from the reminders of the Arena, the wolves, Darrien…but then Finnick is there, grinning at me with that infectious grin of his, and he tugs me out into the dancefloor, twirling me with a flourish.

It's hard to remain uneasy, unhappy or trapped in the past when Finnick makes an effort to be charming.

He leads me in a lively dance, which leaves me gasping and laughing, breathless from the enthusiasm and the sheer vibrancy with which he dances.

"You're a menace," I inform him, and he bows mockingly before turning to Enobaria.

"My, what big teeth you have madam! Please, dance with me, before you consider eating me. I assure you I'm a much better dancer than a meal."

I snort softly as Enobaria rolls her eyes and tugs him out onto the floor, sharpened, golden teeth gleaming, "Who says I'd want to eat you Odair. You District 4's are two salty for me."

I turn to leave the floor but come face to face with Haymitch, who raises a sardonic eyebrow at me, and offers a slightly listing hand.

"Come on fishkitten." He slurs, tugging me into a loose dance, "It's expected that I show you some courtesy. Finnick's a friend of mine after all."

There is something under those words, and for a moment I'm confused before suddenly, it becomes clear. The Rebellion. Haymitch is a part of it. Handy as the District 12 mentor.

"A friend of Finnick's is a friend of mine," I say with a smile and I see his grey eyes twinkle faintly before he dips me, both of us toppling over as his balance fails him.

"Whoops," he grunts, as I let out a peal of laughter, "Sorry there sweetheart." And he pats the cowl of my dress, over my chest lightly. From some men it would be a seedy gesture, but Haymitch barely touches me there. Only enough to feel a tiny slip of paper slide into the strap of my bra.

Sneaky. He's not nearly as inebriated as he pretends.

"You'd better let me, Haymitch," A familiar voice chimes in above us and suddenly Peeta is there, hiding a grin, helping Haymitch up and handing him off to Katniss who obviously hisses some snarky comment at the older man, which he returns. They begin to dance, deliberately stepping on each others feet, and Peeta and I just watch, struggling not to laugh.

Fortunately this song is slower, and so Peeta is able to clumsily steer me in a dance.

"Cato is glaring," He points out, "But what else is new."

"We had words," I sigh, "He is still holding onto the Arena grudges."

"Katniss," he huffs, "Look, I wasn't altogether happy with her either…when you and Cato were fighting…I wanted to help."

"I know," I say it quietly, "Don't worry about it Peeta, truly."

"No," his hand tightens on mine, "I do worry about it. You…you didn't deserve it. I should have been braver. I'm sorry."

"Peeta," I tug him into a warm hug, "You have nothing to be sorry for. Truly. And you can make it up to me by visiting me in District 4."

"I suppose that's fair," he smiles, arms tightening about me for a moment before murmuring, "Incoming…trouble ahoy."

"If you don't mind Mellark," Cato's deep voice rumbles from behind me and my eyes widen as Peeta steps away from me, "Sky owes me a dance."

"She's all yours," Peeta says, and like the bloody traitor he is, he winks and abandons me to my fuming lover.

"Unbelievable." I mutter. "He better bake me a cake."

"Sky," Cato growls and tugs me into his arms, starting to dance as he glares down at me, "Stop fucking flirting with Peeta."

"I was not flirting!" I huff back, exasperatedly, "Stop being jealous of everyone!"

"Sky!" he gives me a faint shake and I glare back at him.

Purposely I stamp on his foot.

His eyes narrow and he yanks me up so our bodies are flush together. We stare at one another for a long moment and then he dips me. For a moment his arms disappear from around me and then suddenly, just before I hit the floor, my breath already hitching in anticipated pain, he grabs me and yanks me back upright.

"You absolute…" I hiss at him twirling into him and elbowing him in the gut, "I despise you."

"I don't believe you for a second." He growls back, and gives my hair a quick tug.

The dance continues in a similar vein and by the end of it I'm fuming and he's giving me the kind of look that means the instant we're alone I'm going to get it.

I get the final word though, stamping on his foot again as I whirl away, striding off the dancefloor, feeling pleased with myself.

I grab another drink but as some Capitol citizens slowly make their way over to me, I push aside my private smugness at having completely vexed Cato and smile warmly. These people saved me with their generous donations of money. I can afford to give them my time and attention. The Games are monstrous, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't be a little grateful for their patronage.

They of course talk to me about the Games, the spectacle it had been, but their eyes watch me, a curious light to them.

They want to hear about Zara, and Clove, Teesa and Thresh, Peeta and Cato, Darrien and Marvel, the connections I made, the friendships and love I'd forged with the people I was supposed to kill. Something about me seems to intrigue them, and they listen intently to me. They don't ask me about the bloodbath, the death, they don't chatter about the fights, they just want to know about the Tributes I'd helped them get to know.

In return they are eager to tell me about themselves, and I listen to their stories, full of frivolous things, meaningless moments and I realise they aren't evil. These people aren't evil. Misguided yes, brainwashed certainly, but not evil.

And they envy me the love I found.

I don't think any of them have ever felt anything as deeply as I'd felt Darrien's loss, or Teesa's, or as deeply as I feel my feelings for Cato. They are little jewelled birds in a gilded cage, and they have no idea what they miss by being so trapped.

So I share with them some of my stories, little moments they'd missed while watching other Tributes, and they laugh and listen eagerly.

I'm so engrossed in the conversation I don't realise what a crowd I've attracted, until I look up and meet Finnick's green eyes from nearby. He's smiling, and so I smile back, but my eyes travel beyond him to the man standing on a small balcony, looking down at us.

President Snow catches my eyes with his, and beckons once.

And I realise, it's time for our little chat.

It takes a few moments longer to escape from the ballroom than I expect. I weave my way to the ladies restroom, feeling eyes following me, knowing that Cato is watching me, eyes dark and heated.

I reach the door to the washroom and then slip to the side, out through a curtain into a long sumptuously carpeted hallway.

Within moments a peacekeeper is there, and he guides me up several long flights of stairs, along long corridors until he ushers me into a room.

The room itself it not lit, but it is lit by the lights from the ballroom below. This study looks out over the great chamber, the panes of coloured glass appearing clear from this side, even as I know, from underneath it looks just opaque colour. President Snow stands there, looking down at the people milling around, talking and laughing. The sounds do not reach us here, not the voices, nor the music, and it is oppressively quiet, and strange to see so much movement and life, but hear no sound.

The man at the window lifts his hand and beckons.

"Miss Cavendish." He murmurs, voice soft, cultured, and cool, "Please, join me."

I slowly walk over to join him, right by the windows and I look down at the chamber below me, at all the people there.

We are silent for a few more long moments, and I feel a bead of sweat slowly wind down the back of my neck.

This man could destroy me, and everyone I love. Even a whisper of dissent from me could prompt him to act ruthlessly, without mercy. He spared my life from the wolves in the Arena, he believes it to now be unequivocally his property…he is wrong of course, but I must play along for now.

"What do you see?" he asks me, waving a hand encompassing the celebration below me, "How does this appear to you?"

I glance at him, and fight down a shiver at the glacial eyes watching me intently.

"It's a blur to me." I say truthfully, because some instinct tells me that lying openly to this man would be a very bad idea. I'll have to lie about Finnick, about the Rebellion, that's bad enough. Best not to start out with the credentials of a constant liar, "Bright colours…pretty but no substance to it."

"Interesting," President Snow murmurs the word and then looks out at the swirling people below, "That is how you first appeared to me, Miss Cavendish. You are pretty enough, charming enough, but there seemed little about you to make you worth any attention and time. There are always pretty girls, and few make it out of the Arena."

I shiver and glance at him, "But not now?"

"No," he murmurs, "It is rare that I misjudge someone. I often can guess the winner of the Hunger Games before they even begin. Tributes such as Brutus," and he touches a metal join near his hand and suddenly the glass shimmers, and I gasp as it focuses, zooming in until Brutus fills the pane, walking around the party with an arrogant strut. A few brave Capitol women follow him, hoping that they'll attract his eye "Are obvious winners."

"He is," I say carefully, watching Brutus and then glancing at Snow, "But his type doesn't always win."

"No," President Snow touches the wall again and the glass shimmers once more to reveal Finnick, sipping from his glass and laughing at something a drunken Haymitch Abernathy is obviously slurring at him. "But I knew your Mentor would win also. He has that edge about him. His assets made him a useful piece, so I encouraged the Gamemakers when he was so obviously dominating."

I gaze at Finnick, knowing that it is not an accident that Snow is showing me someone I care about, it is subtle this threat, but I have no doubts they will become more and more crystal clear.

"And this year?" I whisper, not looking away from Finnick's laughing green eyes.

Then the glass shimmers and the picture shifts into two separate forms. Cato and Katniss.

"I was sure it would come down to them." Snow's voice is smooth, "Which is why I encouraged the Gamemakers to find ways to…impede Miss Everdeen."

"Why?" I ask, glancing at him, "A District 12 Victor…it is unusual, the viewers would love it?"

His lips twitch upwards faintly, "It would. But the Hunger Games are not only about the entertainment. Its true purpose is, and always will be the subjugation of the Districts. A Victor like Miss Everdeen is dangerous. She is a spark; she embodies hope…which is dangerous."

My eyes move from Katniss' guarded face to Cato's. He is leaning against a wall, but his eyes are roving the crowd, searching for someone.

"He is looking for you," Snow says quietly, "But for now at least, he will have to wait."

I look away from Cato's face and over to the man beside me, "So, why four Victors?" I ask quietly, my hand smoothing over my dress nervously, "Why stop the wolves?"

President Snow smirks faintly and touches the wall, which shimmers one final time to reveal me, with the crowd of Capitol citizens around me. Their eyes are shining, and they are clearly hanging onto my every word. And I…I look comfortable, natural.

"You…are an asset." He murmurs, "One I intend to use. Oh your Cato is useful too; we can always use another District 2 soldier. But you…you are something else." Slowly he moves towards me and I lock my knees to hold myself in place as the coppery scent of blood suddenly fills my nose, "I have always said that hope is the only thing stronger than fear."

I glance up at him, at the glacial, flat eyes so close to me.

"But you have shown me that I was, in fact, incorrect. There are two things stronger than fear. And one thing stronger than hope."

"And that is?" I whisper, swallowing dryly.

"Love." Snow breathes it, and his lips curl, "What is fear? What is the promise of hope? Compared to love."

One cool finger touches my cheek and I almost flinch, but I hold myself in check.

"Miss Everdeen gave the Districts hope," he murmurs, "She gave them something to consider fighting for. And the only thing that kept them in check…was you."

"Me?" I swallow again, "No I…"

"You. While you lived they were not wholly Miss Everdeen's. She fired their imaginations, their passions but still they held back. Held back because of a girl who kept saving lives." He runs a nail slowly down my cheek, "Their loyalties are divided. I will bring her to heel now." He smirks, "And you will be their prize, proof that the Hunger Games, are a symbol of not only our strength…but of the Capitol's love for the Districts. After all, the Games cannot be so evil…if something so good survived."

I stare at him, and he taps my chin.

"Go home. Relax. Enjoy the spoils of Victory and your lover. But when the Victory Tour comes…we shall speak again. And you will do as I say, won't you little fish?"

My skin crawls as he uses Cato's name for me, but I nod, turning to go as he dismisses me.

Just as I reach the door however his voice stops me.

"As you see Miss Cavendish," I turn back to look at him and he gives me a sinister smile, "True games…never end."

Chapter Text

Haymitch's tiny note simply says: 'Roof. Midnight.'

So that's where I head after we return from the Banquet, not waiting for Felvia to somehow extricate me from my dress. My group left after the party from 12 so I figure I have little time to waste as I ascend the stairs up to the rooftop.

I'm proven correct by the silhouette of Haymitch against the Capitol skyline, still in his suit, but with the collar hanging half undone, and skew whiff. Slowly I walk over to join him, and the two of us stand, looking out at the glittering panorama before us.

"So," He drawls softly, watching as some fireworks burst into the sky above some tall buildings, "Finnick tells me you can handle yourself."

I glance at him, "I can." I say, leaning against the rail, "You and Finnick know each other well?"

"Well enough," he gives me a small amused look, "Well enough to trust him, even if I don't trust you yet sweetheart."

"Peeta trusts me," I point out, watching as a big blue firework explodes overhead.

"He does. And for what it's worth, so does Katniss." He snorts, "She's a handful that one, but she sure knows her own mind."

"Does she know?" I ask slowly, "About your friendship with Finnick?"

"Well look at you being all careful with your words," He chuckles at me, "Relax sweetheart, we can't be heard up here."

"Does Katniss know?" I ask him again, but I don't use the word rebellion. I can't be so sure that we aren't being overheard.

"No, she doesn't." he huffs a sigh, "And if I had my way neither would you. But Finnick was determined, and well..what Finnick Odair wants…he gets. Eventually."

"What about Peeta?" I ask, shooting him another look.

"No." He looks a bit sheepish, "I don't think the kid is too fond of me right now."

"What did you do?" I ask, arching an eyebrow.

"Well," he huffs a sigh, "As a mentor you have to make the tough choices. And District 12 doesn't usually get flooded with Sponsorship money."

He gives me a meaningful look and my heart sinks, "You thought you could only save one of them."

"Clever," Haymitch picks up a glass from the ledge and drinks from it, pulling a face at the taste, "Finnick said you were. Look, sweetheart, I know you were being Miss Do Good out there in the Arena, but out here…you have to make the hard decisions. You'll understand that soon enough. Since you'll have to mentor the next batch next year."

"Peeta knows?" I ask softly, wondering how he must feel about that.

"He's a bright kid." Haymitch shakes his head, "He didn't get any help from me. Not until Katniss rejoined him. He hasn't said anything but…"

"He's smart." I sigh, "Now I wish I'd gone looking for him."

Haymitch laughs softly and shakes his head, "You know, when I started watching you, I thought….there's no way this girl cares THAT much about everyone. I kept waiting for you to snap, to lose it, to throw someone under the proverbial train. But you just…kept going."

"I can't explain it," I say quietly, and he snorts.

"Course you can't." he salutes me with his glass mockingly, "It's not logical. And half the time you just…did it without even thinking." He sighs and turns to face me, "It's not going to be easy, you know? What we're planning? It's going to take blood, guts and a lot of sacrifice."

"It's worth it,"

He nods approvingly, "It is. I just hope you can handle it."

"I'm tougher than I look." I quirk a half smile and he snorts.

"Oh you're one of Finnick's alright." He claps my shoulder and moves away, "I'll keep in touch."

"Haymitch?" I turn to him and he pauses in the doorway down to the tower, "You should tell them. They're a part of this too. They should know."

He eyes me consideringly and then disappears down the stairwell, not looking back, and without answering.

I can only hope he considers it.

For long moments I stand there, gazing out at the Capitol, the bright lights, the sounds of people celebrating the end of another year of Hunger Games. The thought makes something in my chest twinge, and I finally turn away, walking towards the stairs.

I only get halfway there however before the door crashes open.

A startled 'eep' leaves my throat and I stumble back a pace, only to blink as Peeta pauses in the doorway, looking just as surprised to see me as I do to see him.

"Sky," he says, mouth opening slightly, "Hi,"

"Peeta…" I glance at the door, "You want to tell me what that door did to you?"

"What?" he glances at the door, and he winces slightly, "Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. I didn't think anyone would be up here…"

"Peeta," I walk over to him, and he lapses into silence, running a hand through his fair hair, "Hey. What's wrong?"

He looks at me for long moments and then suddenly he seems to deflate, walking towards the roof garden. Slowly I follow him, concerned. I've never seen Peeta like this, never seen him so worked up, so upset. It frightened me a little, and worried me.

Slowly he sits down on the bench and I perch beside him, curling an arm about his waist.

"Katniss," he says it softly, rubbing a hand up through his hair again, "She…she doesn't care for me."

"What?" I'm confused, "What do you mean? Of course she cares for you…"

"No." he looks at me, and the hurt in those blue eyes is real and raw, "It as an act. For Sponsors."

"An act?" I stare at him, and then shake my head, "No…that can't be…"

But it makes a kind of sense, I realise, my heart sinking slightly. I remember being a little jarred by how affectionate she was at the recap show. It hadn't seemed natural, so unlike Katniss in mannerism. She had never seemed to be the type to engage in overt affection, being more the strong protector than the soft lover.

"Haymitch knew," he hangs his head down, "He encouraged her to do it. And it makes sense you know? It's a great strategy…I just…"

"You thought it was real…" I whisper, "Oh Peeta."

He gives a painful laugh and looks away, "What a schmuck huh?"

"No!" I grip his arm, tugging him around to face me, "No Peeta, you're not a schmuck. Don't think that."

"It was idiotic," he shakes his head, "To think that…after loving her so long she could…that she would…I fooled myself, more thoroughly than she ever could."

I slide close, wrapping my arms around him tightly, holding him close. For a moment he sits, stiff, unyielding against me, and then he seems to sag, resting his head against my shoulder and neck. Gently I stroke his hair, running my fingers gently through the soft curls.

"You'll be okay," I murmur softly, my fingers soft as they tease through the silky strands, "If you need anything Peeta…"

"This is good," he breathes, eyes closing tiredly, "I just want to go home. I'm so…tired."

"I know," and I do, this has been exhausting, physically and emotionally. All I want is to go home, to smell the sea, to see my parents, "Just one more sleep."

He chuckles huskily, "You have no idea how good that sounds," he barks another laugh, "Oh, right, actually you do." He tilts his head slightly, looking up at me, "Is it bad, I wish you were coming back to 12 with me tomorrow?"

It's my turn to laugh softly, "I wish you were coming to 4. You'd love it."

He smiles slightly and wraps an arm about me, the two of us just cuddling together, "Maybe I could come visit you?"

"I'd like that."

I don't know how long we stay like that, my cheek resting against his soft hair, his head on my shoulder, my arms around him and his curled around me. It's comfortable and comforting, and the smell of Peeta is warm and safe.

Before this, before the Reaping, which feels like an eternity ago, I'd never really had many friends, preferring to quietly hang in the peripheries. I had my books, and my funny older co workers, and I was fine with playing with the other kids my age in the sea, but I'd never really…bonded with them.

But then there was Darrien, and his solid strength and comfort, and Finnick with his humour and charm, and his ability to tease me out of my shell, Teesa and her dry wit and intelligence, Marvel and his good natured fondness for Darrien, Clove and her snarky humour, Thresh and his silent strength, Cato and….well everything about him. Even Katniss with her single minded determination and her bravery.

And Peeta, who understands me on a level that the others couldn't and can't. He's sensitive, empathetic…and he understands about feeling. He feels too much too.

It makes me feel even more protective of him, and my arms tighten slightly. He smiles and squeezes me back.


We both look up to find Finnick standing before us, arms folded and a grin on his handsome face.

"Sky, darling," he begins and I roll my eyes, "I hesitate to point this out to you, but you are cuddled around the wrong blond victor. No offence Peeta, you are very pretty, but Cato isn't exactly the sharing type."

"Finnick," I growl at him, even as Peeta tenses in my arms "Do me a favour and go boil your head for me, would you? Thanks…"

"We weren't…she wasn't…" Peeta tries to say, face earnest with concern, but both Finnick and I shush him.

"Don't worry muffin man," Finnick says cheerfully, walking over to sit beside us on the bench, "I know this is just innocent cuddling."

"Why are you here again?" I ask him as Peeta sits up, peering at my mentor curiously, "You're intruding. Again."

"It's my role in your life Sky," Finnick drawls back, "As your honorary big brother, to make you are annoyed and embarrassed."

"Peeta's one too," I point out, feeling a warm burst of happiness as a flash of pleasure shows across the fair haired boys face, "And he doesn't torment me like you do."

"He's not a big brother," Finnick shakes his head, "He's like your bloody twin. Of course he's on your side."

"I got your back," Peeta says to me, relaxing into the teasing conversation and grins as Finnick offers him his fist. They bump their knuckles together and I kiss Peeta's cheek.

"You've done it now," I inform him, smiling despite myself, "You're part of this weird family now, like it or not."

"No objections," he says, but reluctantly gets to his feet, "But I should get back, before Haymitch comes looking for me, and passes out somewhere."

Finnick shakes his head, "Haymitch is like a dented coin," he assures the younger man, "He always turns up again."

Peeta laughs and kisses me on the cheek, "Goodnight twin, Goodnight Mr Odair,"

"Finnick, please…" my mentor stands to drag the boy into a hug, "Or you know, anything you like really. I even answer to hey you."

Peeta chuckles once again, and with a final wave to me, as well as calling, "See you on the train," he disappears off the roof.

"I like that kid," Finnick murmurs, eyeing where Peeta had disappeared, "I liked him when you were in the Arena too. Made life very difficult."

"I'm glad we were both able to survive," I reply with a sigh, running a hand through my hair, "The thought of him or Teesa dying…always grieved me."

Finnick glances towards me and then gently takes my hand in his, "We haven't talked about her. You must miss her…and Darrien."

"All the time," I whisper, and close my eyes, "Everything seems to remind me of them. And Clove, Zara…Marvel…all of them."

Finnick gently kisses my temple.

"That morning, when Zara died," he said softly, "That first morning, when you fell…and you were screaming for me." He shivers beside me and I gently take his hand in mine, "I've never felt more helpless. All I wanted was to go to you, to help you…it killed me…having to watch you suffer on your own."

"I wasn't alone though," I murmur it softly; "I knew you would be watching. The whole way through…I knew you were watching out for me."

"And you had Teesa," he smiles slightly, "I sent her something you know. Out of my personal funds. As a thank you."

"What?" I glance at him, surprised, "Really?"

He nods, "She helped you. I sent it after Darrien died. When she sat with you through The Fallen."

We sit in silence for a long moment and then I sigh, "Did you need something Finnick? When you came up here?"

"Hmmm? Oh yes," he sits up and faces me, "How did your meeting with Haymitch go?"

I huff at him and he grins.

"You knew?" I growl at him, "Why didn't you just come and join us?"

"You needed the one on one time," he says smugly, "He needed to get a gauge on you. Considering I didn't find any smashed alcohol against my door, I think I can assume you passed his twisted approval meter."

I laugh and shake my head at him, "You are so exasperating,"

"Why thank you darling," he grins at me, "Your exasperation fills me with joy."

I squeeze his hand and he looks at me with a smile, "But…we should tell Peeta, Katniss….and Cato."

Finnick's eyebrow shoots up.

"And Cato?"

"Yes," my voice is firm.

"Are you sure?" he's solemn now, "Love, once he knows…he can't unknow. And he's from District 2. They are bred to be loyal to the Capitol…"

"I trust him." I lean in, "Finnick, if you're going to trust me…ask me to be a symbol for this…you have to trust me completely. Cato won't betray me, won't betray us."

"If you're sure…" he still looks wary, "Maybe you should wait, just in case."

"No need." A voice rumbles out of the shadows and Cato steps out from behind a grove of trees.

Instantly Finnick is on his feet, and between me and my partner, planting himself solidly between me and what he thinks is harms way. But looking at Cato, I realise that he's not angry, not poised to attack, in fact, he's calm, but his blue eyes are on mine.

"It's okay Finnick," I say, standing and moving around him, "Cato. How much did you hear?"

"Enough," he rumbles back, glancing warily at my mentor before focusing on me, "And not enough."

Finnick eyes me warily, but I keep my gaze on Cato's, "I'll explain."

"I know," he shoots Finnick a dark look, "I don't appreciate being in the dark."

"Some secrets need to be treated with caution," Finnick mutters, "But then I don't know you as well as she does."

"Cato," I step forward, feeling the animosity in the air ratchet up another notch, "There's a rebellion brewing, and Finnick and I are a part of it."

He stares at me and then glances at Finnick, "How long…"

"She only found out about it yesterday," Finnick says tensely, "She hasn't been lying to you Cato."

"A rebellion," he lets out a harsh breath, "Are you crazy Sky?" his hands close on my upper arms, giving me a shake, "You think some ragtag rebellion is going to defeat the Capitol? You'll die!"

"It's far from ragtag," Finnick interjects, stepping forward, "We've been biding our time Cato. Waiting for someone to fan the flames."

"Sky?" he glances at me.

"No." he hesitates, seeming to realise its dangerous ground, "Katniss."

Cato growls, "Bitch on fire? Are you serious?"

"Cato," I cup his cheek and turn him to look at me, "She's stirred the Districts…she's important."

"She's dangerous," He growls, "The Capitol's got to know she's stirring trouble."

"They are," Finnick folds his arms, "Which is why they saved Sky and you."

Cato frowns slightly and I quickly explain, "President Snow believes we can…cool down the hot heads. But the rebellion believes that the four of us…are important to the success of this."

"Fuck this is crazy!" he hisses, pulling away from me, "How can you go along with this?"

"Because it's worth it!" I follow him, "No more Hunger Games, no more kids like Darrien or Marvel…or Clove, dying."

He shoots me a dark look, and walks away.

"I need to think. Don't follow me."

And he leaves me and Finnick standing there among the trees, the windchimes softly tinkling above us.

"I hope we made the right call." Finnick murmurs, and I nod, my throat tight.

Laying in bed that night, I stare up at the ceiling, plucking at my bedcover idly.

It's late, or early, I'm not sure which. But I've been laying here for hours, my mind tossing everything around and around. Fear clenches me, fear that Cato will decide the Capitol is too great an enemy to take on. I can't blame him for that.

It's around four in the morning when my door slowly slides open and Cato's familiar smell fills my nose as he slips into the bed beside me.

"Cato," I murmur but he gently shushes me, kissing my forehead softly.

"You and me," he murmurs, taking my hand in his, cradling it against his chest, "Remember?"

I smile through the sudden tears and kiss him, huddling in his arms.

"You and me."

Chapter Text

The train ride home is uncomfortable to say the least.

Before boarding the four of us stand together, waving farewell to the huge crowd gathered before us. Many of the Capitol citizens wave back to us, cries of our names loud in the morning air. Peeta and Katniss stand together, holding hands, but I notice how Peeta's smile is less bright than it was, his eyes a little more shuttered.

Cato holds me close to his side, arm around my shoulder and my head resting against him. Since he'd come to me last night, making his choice to stand with me, even against the Capitol, he hasn't let me out of his sight.

His protectiveness and his concern is touching…and humbling.

Now as the Capitol vanishes into the distance behind us, I stand by the window, looking out at the countryside flashing by.

"It's over," Peeta says quietly, joining me, watching the land grow wilder and wilder as we zoom away from the Capitol, "Hard to believe, isn't it?"

"Yes," I say quietly, "I can't believe we're going home today."

"Well some of us," Cato's strong voice interjects as he moves to stand on my other side, "Always expected to be going home."

I roll my eyes, and I see out of the corner of them that Peeta does the same.

"Not all of us are overconfident Careers," Peeta points out, and I grin at him proudly.

"Insufferable," I add.

"Intolerable," Peeta continues, grinning slightly as Cato makes an outraged noise.

"Overconfident, arrogant, rude, possessive, unbearable arse of a-" I pause, looking innocently around at Peeta, "Oh did we stop?"

Cato growls, and it's a testament to how much he actually does that, that I recognise that this particular growl is a playful one.

Peeta laughs and I grin around at Cato who is fighting down a smile of his own.

"I'm going to make you pay for that," Cato says mock solemnly, pointing a finger at me, "Mark my words."

I feel Peeta clap my shoulders gently from the other side, "Well, it was nice knowing you Sky," he murmurs in my ear, as I watch Cato's eyes dance slightly.

"Oh please," I mutter back, smirking slightly up at Cato, "He's just a big puppy really. Aren't you…" I coo at Cato.

"You are making it so much worse," Cato mutters at me, fighting down a grin, as Peeta laughs behind me, "And didn't we decide you were the puppy? You know with the follow, heel…beg?" and he smirks.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I inform him loftily, turning on my heel and stalking off towards the dining car, where I know I'll be able to find a drink. Behind me I hear Cato and Peeta laugh, and then the murmur of conversation.

Smiling I walk towards the door and then pause as I see Katniss.

She's standing in between the two cars, her hand holding the door open as she watches Peeta and Cato talking. Her expression can only be called wary, and she frowns slightly as she watches the two boys chatting together.

Slowly I take another step forward and her gaze snaps to me.

We stare at each other for long moments and then carefully I nod my head back the way she came. She gets the signal, and slowly backs up, letting me join her in the other car.

For a moment we stand there in silence, watching one another.

We haven't been alone together since our confrontation over the bodies of Marvel and Rue and she seems to realise that too. It's so tense it hurts, so I sigh, and lean against the wall.


"Sky." She replies, smoothing her fingers down the loose trousers she's changed into. We watch each other for long moments and then I hold a hand out.

"Katniss, the Hunger Games are over. What's done is done. I would like to try to move beyond it…we were friends once. Or I would like to think we were."

"I…" She looks at me and seems to slump slightly as she reaches out to take my hand in her lightly callused one, "Could use a friend."

I smile softly, and squeeze her hand, "You have one in me. We have to stick together; we went through something…people won't be able to understand. But you do. Cato does. Peeta does. I do." Her eyes meet mine and I say softly, "You'll see. We're in this together."

She eyes me carefully, and then a small smile curls up her lips, "Thank you Sky."

I nod and move away, pausing only when she refuses to let go of my hand. Turning back to her I'm surprised by the look in her eyes, it's cautious but torn at the same time.

"It's not over." She says softly, and her eyes meet mine again, "You know that right?"

I'm smart enough to know it's a loaded question, "No," I reply quietly, "It's not over. That's why you have us."

She seems to understand what I didn't say, and slowly let's go of my hand, relief colouring her returning smile.

"Thank you."

The train pulls into District 2 first, just before sunset.

I stand by the window, looking out at the mountains and the stone buildings of the District going past, knowing that any moment now the train will glide into the station.

There Katniss, Peeta, Cato and I will greet the crowd waiting for us. He'll kiss me farewell, and then I have to get back on the train without him.

It's only now, as the train begins to slow, that I realise I'm not nearly ready for this.

Pushing away from the window I go in search of him, remembering that he'd decided to have something to eat before arriving. He's going to have ceremonies and such to attend when he disembarks, and who knows what chance he'll have to eat something substantial then.

It's only as I head past the sleeping rooms of the train car that I hear Cato's voice, in that low, threatening, and dangerous growl.

"-don't trust you, and I sure as hell don't trust you with her."

"The feeling is mutual," I'm surprised to hear Katniss' voice and peer around the doorframe to see the two of them standing face to face, "I don't trust you. And I don't trust you around Peeta."

It's the first time I've actually ever seen them near one another, and it's certainly the first time I've ever heard them really talk to one another. There had always been a rivalry there, but for the first time I wonder, where had it sprung from?

"Ah well," Cato sneers, folding his arms and looming threateningly over Katniss, "You see, I actually quite like Lover boy. He's got something to him. Unlike you, who I just think is a cold hearted bitch."

"What like Clove?" Katniss mocks back and chokes as Cato's hand snaps out, gripping her throat.

"Don't you say one word about her," Cato's voice is pure venom, and the look in his eyes says that he could easily snap Katniss' throat right there, "Don't even think about her. You know nothing about Clove…"

Hurriedly I step into the room, and Cato's gaze turns towards me.

"Let her go Cato," I say and I try to make my voice low and soothing, the tone you use on skittish animals, "Let her go now."

"I could end this," he hisses, hand tightening slightly so Katniss chokes, "Right here…one more kill."

"Cato." I just say his name, low, gazing at his face, and I know that that one simple word, his name, has gotten through where pleading and shouting would have simply glanced off.

With a snarl he shoves Katniss away.

"You're so fucking lucky Bitch on Fire." He growls the words, body held tense as he speaks, "You got lucky in the Arena, and you're lucky now that Sky wants you alive." He shoots a glare towards me, "Much as I wish she didn't."

Katniss looks up at him, hand on her throat and gives a hoarse chuckle, "You got lucky too Cato," he rasps up at him, "Lucky she took pity on you and saved you. Lucky she found that sword, lucky she went after you on the Cornucopia."

Cato takes a threatening step forward and I bark out, "Cato! Stop that! And you…" I glare at Katniss, "Stop provoking him!"

"Let's talk about the Cornucopia," Cato's voice snarls over the top of mine, "Let's talk about how you just sat there, and listened to a girl being torn apart by monsters."

"Let's talk about how you left a girl bleeding to death from a stab to the belly!" Katniss exclaims back, getting to her feet, and I flinch at the mention of Zara "Or how you broke that boy from 3's neck!"

"Let's talk about Darrien!" Cato shouts and I feel Peeta move into the doorway behind me, his solid warmth a comfort as my heart skips a beat at the mention of my District partner, "Let's talk about Marvel!"

"Let's talk about Rue!" Katniss howls back, and I feel Peeta's hand grip mine. It's a warning, knowing that I want to stop them once more, but he knows, as I do, that these things need to be said now. Before they fester any longer, "Let's talk about those children you murdered at the Bloodbath!"

Cato growls at her, and the sound is so dangerous that I shiver, feeling Peeta tremble beside me as well.

"I've done things, things I was trained for." He says icily, face hard as stone, "I don't regret fighting, killing for my survival. I have my own regrets however, things I am not proud of. But you…I see no remorse in you."

"I have remorse." Katniss' voice is quieter now, "For…Darrien…" she glances at me, "For not helping Peeta earlier. For not being there to save Rue." But her gaze then returns to Cato's. "Everything else, I did to survive. And I don't regret that."

Cato steps towards her slowly, towering over her slimmer frame and I tense anxiously. He doesn't attack her however, but he leans in so their faces are only inches apart.

"All that other shit, is meaningless to me," he says, voice low and cold, "And there is one thing I can't forget, and I can't forgive. You would have sat there, and listened to Sky being torn apart. You would have stayed there all night, as long as it took. Just because she was in your way." He glances towards me, and his blue eyes take in Peeta holding me there, protectively, "After everything she did…you didn't even give her the courtesy of mercy." He looks back at her, "That…is the thing I cannot forgive, or forget."

"Cato," I say softly, "She had limited arrows. She didn't know if she'd have to face the wolves herself."

"It doesn't matter!" Cato shouts it, turning to face me, "He tried!" and he points to Peeta, "Even bleeding out all over the Cornucopia he wanted to help you! But she just let you suffer!"

"You're right," I say and I feel Peeta's hand tense around mine, "It doesn't matter. It's in the past Cato. I'm alive. You're alive. And she and Peeta are as well. What matters now is the future…" I stare him down, thinking of the rebellion, hinging on Katniss, "You have to put it aside."

He stares at me for long moments and then strides over. For an intense few seconds he stands before me, and then he pushes past, footsteps disappearing down the train car, and I turn to Peeta.

"You'd better go to him," He says softly, "We're arriving in a few minutes."

Slowly I nod, and glance at Katniss who is watching Peeta with a cautious expression.

Going in search of Cato, I find him by the windows, staring out at his home, the home he'd left to become a Victor. Moving carefully I walk up beside him, and lean into his bulk, offering him comfort in the only way I can.

He sighs, and slowly his arm unwraps and curls around my shoulders.

"All I can hear," he says quietly, not looking at me, "In my nightmares, is you screaming."

"But I'm safe now," I tell him, squeezing his hand, "See? I'm here, right beside you."

He looks down at me, and then bends to kiss me slowly, his hand cupping my throat, tilting my head up to his.

It's slow, and tender, his soft, slightly chapped lips moving over mine, parting them and deepening the kiss. I just lean into him, letting him guide us, and I feel a rumble leave his throat.

"How did you do this?" he murmurs, breaking the kiss to lean his forehead against mine, "How did you do this to me?"

"I don't know," I say softly, turning to face him completely, my hands gently cupping his cheeks, "But I'm so glad it happened."

He kisses me again, and it's long, slow, deep, like he's tasting my very soul. I lean into him, letting his strong arms curl around my waist, holding me against that hard, muscled body.

I don't know how long we stand there, kissing, memorising the feel, the taste, the rightness of being together, before Finnick's voice, unusually gentle, breaks into our reverie.

"Cato, it's time to go."

"No," I whisper against Cato's lips, and he crushes me to him, a hard, passionate kiss that makes me melt against him.

"This isn't the end." He murmurs, when he finally breaks the kiss, leaving me breathless and flushed, "It's just for a little while…and then I'll see you again." He cups my cheek and then he gently kisses me once more. "You'll be living in the Victor's Village, they have telephones. I'll find out your number and call you."

"Cato," I clutch at him, and earn another desperate, almost vicious kiss, before he wrenches himself away.

"No more…" he sounds tormented, and his blue eyes on my face are over bright, "Or I won't be able to let you go home."

Painfully I nod, and he offers me his hand.

Smiling, remembering our jabs about chivalry, and seeing the small smirk on his own lips, he remembers it too, I take his hand in mine and we walk towards the exit.

Together we join Katniss and Peeta, who dutifully join hands, and step out into the cold, air of District 2.

The crowd, gathered there at the station, cheer to see us, cheer for Cato, their golden son, cheer for me, the girl who saved him. We wave and smile; Peeta and Katniss happy just to linger in the periphery, Peeta smiling slightly.

Brutus and Enobaria join us on the platform, waving at the crowd as well, and the spectators cheer for two of their Victors. Enobaria sends Brutus a vicious grin, sharp teeth gleaming, and Brutus rolls his eyes before pushing her before him, down the steps.

"Psychotic bitch." He mutters, loud enough for me and Cato to hear.

I arch an eyebrow at my lover, and grin as Cato shrugs. Now I know where he gets it from.

Insults seem to be a way of displaying affection in District 2.

And then, all too soon it's time to say goodbye. Katniss and Cato shake hands briefly, coldly, and then she disappears back into the train without a backwards look. Peeta offers a handshake too, and Cato rolls his eyes, taking the hand and hauling the younger man in for a strong hug, which the crowd cheers happily. Then he too disappears back into the train.

And now, it's my turn.

Cato turns to me, and I know there are tears in my eyes, because his face softens, and he kisses me gently. We ignore the wild cheering, letting it slip away until it's just us, just our breaths, our heartbeats, our lips together. Eventually the kiss is broken and we stand, our foreheads resting together.

His hand brushes my cheek, stroking away a few stray tears I hadn't even known had fallen and I lift his hand to my lips, kissing it gently.

The train whistle blows and my eyes meet his.

"Time." He says softly and together we walk to the steps up to the train car. He helps me up, but our hands linger together, the palms, then just the fingers, and then just the fingertips touching before they fall apart.

I'm ushered into the train, and the instant Cato is gone from sight, I hurry to the carriage, darting to the window.

He's there, standing, waving at the crowd, but he turns, as though he knows I'm there. I press my hand to the glass, eyes welling once more.

And as the train pulls out, he blows me a kiss.

Crying in earnest now, I wave, until the train rounds a bend.

And Cato is gone.

I wake to the echoes of my screams filling the sleeping cabin.

Instantly the door slides open and Peeta and Finnick tumble into the room, Peeta ruffled and blinking blearily, and Finnick, dishevelled and shirtless.

Even gasping from the remnants of the dream, I can't resist a crack.

"Any excuse to get your kit off Finnick?"

"I wouldn't deny you this," he relaxes, and waves a hand over his, admittedly gorgeous, physique, "All the ladies love it."

Peeta shakes his head at him, and then walks over, crouching by the bed.

"I…we…heard you scream." He says softly, "Are you okay?"

"It was just a nightmare." I reply, shaking my head, and running a hand through my hair, feeling the terror sweat beginning to cool on my body, "Sorry to have woken you both."

"I don't need much beauty sleep anyway." Is Finnick's easy response, strolling over and flopping gracefully beside me on the bed, "You probably saved me from oversleeping and looking puffy. So thank you."

I shake my head at him, mirroring Peeta's action from before, and then look at Peeta, crouched before me. "Sorry Peeta."

"I wasn't asleep anyway," he reassures me, a small smile on his lips, "Too many thoughts."

"I don't have that problem." Finnick drawls, and I roll my eyes, elbowing him.


"You're an ungrateful little heathen," he informs me, even as he cuddles me back against his chest, "No wonder Cato likes you so much."

Peeta snorts and sits up on the edge of the bed.

Wordlessly, Finnick and I shuffle over, and he smiles before curling up on the other side.

"Who'd have thought," he says softly, his fingers gently brushing the hair from my face, "Who'd have thought the pretty little Tribute from 4 would tame the brutal boy from 2."

"I picked it," Finnick, lifts a hand smugly, "And you don't know this Peeta, but I was their relationship counsellor during the initial flirtation stages."

"Initial flirtation stages?" I mutter at him, "Really?"

"You know, the wall slamming, threats, throat grabbing. It was practically a bodice ripping encounter, everytime you saw one another."

Peeta snickers into his pillow, "He was always watching her, growling about how he was going to teach her a lesson."

"Ooh naughty," Finnick smirks down at me, "Has he done it yet?"

"Don't want to know!" Peeta groans before I can answer, "Don't say anything Sky."

"As if I would," I roll my eyes, "And besides…everything has been completely legitimate. Nothing sexual or bodice ripping at all."

"I dunno…I did see that encounter in the woods," Finnick points out, and I blush as I remember that heated make out session.

"You know that went nowhere," I poke him, and settle down between them.

We lay in silence for a little while, Peeta's fingers gently stroking my hair, and my hand slowly rubbing his arm. Finnick watches us both with a smile.

I smile at him, lulled into sleepiness by their proximity.

"I love you Finnick." I murmur and a feel him smile against my forehead as he kisses it.

"Love you too, sweetness." He says back gently, "You're the best little sister a man could wish for."

I feel Peeta nod behind me, and I smile.

Safe, protected, and the memory of the wolves and their slavering jaws disappearing into the warmth, I cuddle into them, and let myself drift asleep.

My last thought before losing consciousness, is that I wish Darrien could have been here too.

And Cato.

Chapter Text

Life in District 4 is not how I remember it to be.

But then in the wake of being a Tribute of the Hunger Games, I had always doubted the likelihood of just slotting back into my life like I hadn't left.

I did leave, and I'm a different person now on returning.

I notice it first with my parents, my mother with her sweet face, holding me tight and crying into my shoulder. My stoic father just pats my shoulder and kisses my head, tears silently rolling down the weathered creases of his cheeks. They are happy to have me home, but when I offer them room in my large new house in the Victors Village, they both refuse.

They know, as I know. I stopped being a child the instant the 74th Hunger Games began.

I am, however, required to come to family dinner every Sunday Night. Finnick too was told in no uncertain terms that his presence was expected, and he, Victor that he is, meekly agreed under my mother's stern green gaze. He doesn't really seem to object to being considered part of the family however, and indeed he even appears to revel in it. He has no family himself, and so I think having this surrogate family is new and exciting to him.

However the institution of this tradition also meant that Mags insisted on me, Finnick and sweet Annie Cresta, the Victor who Finnick had likened me to, joining her for dinner on Wednesday evenings.

People in the District, in Panem, call Annie mad; speak of her in quiet pitying voices. And they are right; the games unhinged something in her, broke something deep inside. But she isn't raving, she doesn't froth at the mouth or roll around making terrible noises.

Most of the time she just seems lost, and she clings to the small touchstones of her day to day life. Routine is a comfort to her, grounds her, and brings back some lucidity to her lovely dark green eyes.

I make time for Annie, and its not only because I genuinely feel for this girl, because I had felt something in me fracturing in the Games as well, and I know that without Teesa, without Cato, I could have very well shattered like her. I had been lucky, lucky in my friends, in the people I could rely on. Annie had not been so fortunate.

But that is not the only reason.

From the moment Finnick saw Annie, at that first 'family' dinner in Mags' pale blue kitchen, I knew exactly what the slender Victor meant to my friend. He gazed at her with an expression that I'd seen on my fathers face when he watches my mother cleaning the house, warbling some nonsensical tune under her breath. I'd seen it on Peeta's face when talking about Katniss, when she joined him at the stations in the Training Centre. I'd seen it on Marvel's face when watching Darrien in the Arena.

He loves her, adores her. It's the look someone has when they see the love of their life.

He doesn't need to say it to me, even though the eager, slightly nervous way he introduces her to me, is absolutely adorable. He cares about me, I'm the little sister he'd always wanted, and she's the woman he loves. I think it would kill him if we didn't at least like one another. So I make an effort.

It's not an effort for long.

Annie seems to respond well to me, and soon enough Monday becomes her Sky day. She always has a fish put aside to eat, because she likes what I can do with salmon. And she likes watching me cook, her eager green eyes memorising the familiar actions, mouthing words. Sometimes she reminds me, quietly nudging my arm, when I miss a step.

I always go on Monday, because one week I dropped in on her on the Friday, meaning to be back on Monday as well, and the action threw her. She thought she'd lost two days, had made a mistake, and her panic as she couldn't find the fish, which should have been bought for us to cook broke my heart. I reassured her, and cuddled her close, and after that I made sure I always came on the Monday. I'd become a part of the pattern holding her to us.

Because when she's calm, when she's grounded and safe, Annie is amazing. She's bright, playful, and she has a lovely way with flowers. They grow all around her house in the Victors Village, bright with white, pink, red, gold and blue blossoms that wind up and cover her house like a bower for a fairy queen.

She loves to hear me read, and it's our other activity on the Monday, curling up on the couch and reading a story. Finnick joins us for dinner and the stories when he's here in the District, and to see him so happy, so content, gives me a warm feeling.

So Monday is for Annie, Wednesday nights is dinner with Mags, Finnick and Annie.

And there is also Friday nights, because there is one other family I've been accepted into.

She corners me in the marketplace two weeks after my triumphant return to my home District, and I know who she is instantly. She couldn't be anyone else with Darrien's blue eyes and dark almost coal black hair. Darrien's mother is named Shia, and she enfolds me in a tight embrace the instant she's made sure I'm Sky, the right girl.

It's hard joining the Macmurras for dinner. Shia is sweet and gracious and makes me feel like I'm a part of the family. Darrien's father, Verdor is quiet, and he seems lost in the wake of losing his eldest son.

It turns out Darrien has two younger brothers, one who has turned 14 and the other who is only 12. Leadan and Riam are two bundles of energy, but it's Leadan who breaks my heart because he looks like a little Darrien, a Darrien in miniature, with large blue eyes and dark silky curls. Riam takes after their father, green eyes and brown hair, but the way he cocks his head and grins, painfully reminds me of his brother.

Both are of Reaping age, and it is another thing to add to the nightmares that fill my evenings. Images of little Riam or Leadan called up, their eyes filled with fear. Knowing I would have to mentor them, knowing that I would have very little chance to bring them home. Watching them die, perhaps like their brother, a huge chunk of metal impaling them on a field, or like Zara, slowly bleeding out, or Clove, her skull crushed by a stone. I see their little faces, and the tributes who did die, as well as Annie, Finnick, Peeta, Katniss and Cato.

The dreams make me scream and cry, and sometimes Finnick hears, when he is home, and he comes over to hold me as I retch into the toilet, sobbing and whimpering names, like saying them will keep me safe, remind me of reality.

But Finnick isn't home all the time, in fact he seems to be regularly in demand in the Capitol, escorting fabulously wealthy socialites around. He hates it, I can tell he loathes it with a passion, but he never complains, and the first night he returns, he always spends it at my house, bathing in my bath, and sleeping in my bed.

After that he's fine to return to the routine of being a Victor at home, but he needs that first night, to scrub himself clean, and to be cuddled asleep. He doesn't ask Annie, not because he doesn't love her, or because he loves me more. No he stays with me because he knows I understand, and because he can have a night of pain, without worrying about hurting Annie, who has already been hurt too much.

I do not forget Cato or Peeta, my love and my friend who are now so far away from me. It seems like a dream, Cato's strong arms, our desperation, our bond. But every morning I wake early, and go for a walk around the lake of District 4 and go for a swim. There, floating, I allow myself to remember, and long to see him again.

I talk to them both, since Victors have telephones. The conversations with Peeta are lively, full of chatter and news. I tell him about District 4, about the sea, and about Annie who, feeling confident with me, has come over and started redoing my house over.

It was too dark and heavy before, opulent in that horrible Capitol way. Annie seems to thrive on her project, and her first assignment is the kitchen. I now know why Mags' kitchen is a pale blue, Annie clearly did hers as well, but mine is painted a warm sand colour.

Peeta tells me about the autumn season and how the leaves are turning gold, red and orange before falling. Our District has few seasons, so I can only imagine the beauty of such a sight. He tells me about warm fires and the fact that now he has all the time he wants, he spends most of it painting or baking.

He doesn't talk about Katniss, and the one time I bring her up, the pain in his voice makes me regret it.

"She's fine," he says, and all I want to say is, but you're not.

He calls almost every second day, and I suspect he's lonely.

Cato however calls sporadically and proves that once again, communication is not his forte. The thing about Cato is his physicality, he expresses through contact, through body language. Listening to his voice, although soothing, is disconcerting, simply because most times, I don't know how to respond, because I don't know how he means it.

It makes conversation awkward and stilted and we hate it.

But we determinedly push on through and he always asks me,

"So… what are you wearing?" At which point I laugh. Sometimes I tell him wild fanciful things, sometimes I don't answer at all, sometimes I profess that I am naked, running through the house like the strange person I am.

My answers make him laugh, and when I ask the question back, the answers are equally outrageous.

Before I know it three months have passed, three long months of relative calm and peace.

I never expected it to last.

"The Rebellion is going well," Finnick informs me, leaning back in the prow of the boat.

We are currently out in Mags beloved little sailboat, and Mags is there with us, her hands lovingly caressing the wood hull. With us is another one of the Victors of 4, Kallian, who is around 35 years old. He's a tall man with a raucous head of curls, touched by the sun as almost all of us 4's is. He's strong, but incredibly lackidasical, and he has a habit of falling over things. Including, once today, the side of the boat.

Finnick fished him out.

He doesn't seem to mind his clumsiness, even informing me in his slow drawl, that it had saved his life in the arena. He'd won a year when almost the entire Arena was marshland. He told me he'd fallen over in the reeds, avoiding an arrow to the throat and the Tribute had been unable to find him.

"Unconventional," he tells me seriously hazel green eyes dreamy, "But effective."

He knows about the Rebellion, in fact he's amazingly well connected. Apparently he has a knack for procuring things. Mags calls him a bloody thief but Kallian just gives her a long, sleepy grin.

"I liberate goods from the Captiol clutches," he informs me, "They are grateful."

"The Capitol?" I glance at Finnick who is shaking his head in bemusement.

"The goods." Kallian smiles and lapses back into smiling silence.

But back to the current discussion. The Rebellion.

"Define 'going well'," I say carefully, "Specifics would be helpful."

"We haven't been caught and publically executed," Kallian points out, "Snow isn't using our skulls for tea lights. Our our pelvic bones for decoration."

"You are so weird," Finnick mutters at him, but Kallian just smiles, chewing on something. He's always chewing on something. I suspect it's some kind of mind numbing substance. A lot of Victors are addicted to such things.

"Being caught and strung up is a worst case scenario, " Mags agrees, and lashes a rope around a holder.

"It is," Finnick agrees, "By going well Sky I meant that the people are growing ever more resentful. Katniss is hope to them, and they are all itching to see her. In this case the Victory tour benefits us. Everyone will see her, and you."

"Districts 11, 8, 7, 4 and 3, are ready," Kallian murmurs, "They're simmering, just waiting for the pot to be tipped on the heads of those Capitol scum."

"And 13?" I ask.

The existence of the presumed destroyed District 13 had been a huge shock to me. I'd been so furious at Finnick for keeping something like that from me, I'd shoved him overboard. He didn't hold it against me, in fact he had found my actions hilarious, even as he apologised for lying to me.

Having the backing of a good sized organised force made me feel better about the rebellion.

"Prepared," Mags replies, "They're stockpiling supplies and weapons."

"What about 2," I look at Finnick, "Once everything kicks into gear you know that the Capitol will force all those children from their training Academies to serve as armed Peacekeepers. Especially when they realise the numbers we have. We have to do something about that."

"Cato is handling it," Finnick pats my arm as I huff.

It rankled that Finnick had seen Cato where I had not, but my mentor stopped off in 2 to have a little talk with my lover, and to give him some of the Rebellion news. Cato still struggled with loyalty to his District, against his hatred for the Capitol, whom he blamed for the deaths of Marvel, Darrien and Clove.

So he was subtly trying to recruit from within the Capitol's own pool of forces. It was beautiful, but Cato was born to inspire loyalty. He didn't have that magnetic quality that made Katniss a symbol, but he was without a doubt a leader. He was gaining followers, who were devoted to his side.

It makes me proud, but it doesn't make me miss him any less.

Four months have passed since the end of the Hunger Games when Cato cracks.

"That's it," he barks over the phone, making me jump. I'd been halfway through a story about Finnick murdering my only watermelon in my vegetable patch. He'd offered to mow for me…and mowed right over it.

He'd tried to hide the evidence, but with only one solitary watermelon, it hadn't worked.

"What's it?" I ask, concerned, wondering if I'd broken some taboo in 2. Maybe watermelons weren't accepted there.

"I can't stand it." He growls the words, "You're all the fucking way there, and I'm here."

"We live in different Districts," I point out, "It was your idea to go to our homes for a while remember?"

"It was the worst plan ever, why did you agree?" he mutters the words, "Fuck, forget it, you're coming for a visit."

"What?" I blink at the phone, "Cato you can't just…"

"Can't just what?" he barks back.

"Order me to your side," I glare at the wall. It's pale green, apparently Annie thought my study should be pale green.

"You don't want to come?" he sounds hurt.

"Of course I do," I huff a sigh, "You know I do."

"Then it's settled."

"You could just ask," I roll my eyes, "You know…like a civilised human being?"

There is silence for a moment and then he mutters into the phone, tone vaguely mutinous.

"Please Sky, come visit me."

"Alright," I say equably, already wondering how I'm going to explain to Annie where I'm going, "When?"

"I'll book you a ticket for Tuesday." He says, "Two days. Day after tomorrow is Monday after all. You have things to do then."


I give the wall a sappy smile, "You know…you're actually kind of sweet under all that crap," I inform him.

"Fuck off," is the eloquent reply, "I'm not sweet."

"You are…" I grin, and flop on the couch.

Chapter Text

It's almost dusk by the time the train pulls into the station at District 2.

It's not the same as the Tribute train, this is a much less luxuriant and less comfortable way of travelling, but I find I much prefer it. The Tribute Train always gave me the feeling that they were trying to buy us off, to blind us with wealth and food, and luxury so we would succumb meekly to their Games. This train is much more honest.

There are a fair number of passengers, people from the Capitol who have travelled out for business, merchants travelling from District to District. There is generally limited contact between the Districts, but produce needs to flow, and so there are people that drift between them.

I'm quickly recognised, and have a steady stream of visitors who gush to me about the Games, and about Cato and Finnick. I'm careful to be attentive and participate in their conversations, but the way they talk about the Games, which was such an ordeal for me, like it was a fabulous little drama conducted for their benefit, jars me.

To them it was a television show. Darrien was just a character, Teesa was just a character. They felt for their deaths, but they never considered them as humans, as real breathing children, with family waiting back home, family that will grieve for them for the rest of their lives, while the Capitol forgets them the instant the new, shiny entertainment comes along.

Eventually I manage to escape for a little while, by curling up in my chair once a group leaves and pretending to be asleep.

I still hear the whispering though.

"That's her…"

"…lady of the lake…"

"…her and Cato…"

"…oh I just died when…"

"…the moment when Darrien…"

"…oh Peeta he was…"

"…where do you think…"

"….pretty little thing…"

"….going to District 2?"

So it's a relief when the train slows and glancing out the window I realise that I've finally reached my destination, District 2.

Unfolding myself from my chair I smile at the people around me, who watch avidly as I scoop up my bags and head for the door. Just before the doors slide shut behind me, I hear a babble of noise and the rushing of footsteps.

I head along to the door outside and hang back as a flurry of men and women stream out the doors before me.

I hadn't been nervous before, but I am now.

It's been four months, four long months. What if he has changed? Have I? Could his feelings have faded? Mine haven't but…

Steeling myself I step outside, and squint into the bright afternoon glare of the low hanging sun. Shielding my eyes I blink around me, seeing people filing off the platform, and bundling into grey cars that zoom off efficiently.

It's so very different to District 4, that I take a moment to look around me. The station is made of smooth stone, like the marble I'd seen in the capitol, smoothed to glossy perfection. Everything is so clean and hard. This District is known for its stone, for training Peacekeepers, and it does not shy away from its heritage.

Shivering, feeling very alone on the stone train platform I look around for Cato.

For a moment I don't see him, and my stomach drops, anxiety clawing up through my chest.

And then the sun glints on something gold, and I look around to see him leaning against one of the hard stone pillars. I have no idea if he's spotted me, he's too far away for me see his expression, so I walk towards him, suddenly aware that there are faces smushed up against the glass of the train carriage I'd left.

Walking forward, I smile, hesitantly, as I see that he's watching me, an intense look in his icy blue eyes.

"Cato!" I call to him once I get within a few metres and he finally pushes off from the pillar, striding towards me.

His long legs carry him across the distance easily and then I'm in his arms, the strong limbs lifting me as his lips find mine. My arms curl about his neck, the fingers burying into his thick blond hair, which is a little longer now, holding him to me. We kiss and kiss, clinging to one another like two drowning sailors, starved of one another.

I'd forgotten the warmth kissing him fills me with, the feeling of rightness, of belonging, of safety. Above all I've missed the little things that make him Cato, the growl I can feel rumbling through his strong chest, the way his large, capable hands hold me like I'm precious, and at the same time likely to slip away from him. He won't let me go, and I have no desire for him to release me.

Our kiss breaks finally and I slide one hand around to cradle his strong jaw, smoothing over his cheek and the corner of his mouth. Quickly he presses a light kiss to the pad of my thumb, blue eyes never leaving mine.

"Too long," he says softly, arms tightening slightly, "Four months was far too long."

"It was," I agree, and he kisses me again, a long, slow, sweet kiss that makes me melt against him at the tenderness of it.

"Cato," a voice breaks into our little world and he looks around, slowly lowering me back to the ground, to face a tall, graceful woman with ivory blonde hair. I tuck my hair behind my ear and turn to face her properly too, only to meet a pair of icy blue eyes almost identical to Cato's.

"Mother," Cato growls, not letting go of me completely even as he shuffles with embarrassment, "I told you to wait in the car."

"Since when do I ever do what you tell me to Cato?" His mother shoots him a smile and then stops in front of me, her blue eyes warm, "You must be Sky."

"Yes," I say, suddenly shy, and leaning back against Cato, who is tense, "Pleasure to meet you ma'am."

"Oh please, none of that formality," she takes my hands in hers, drawing me with her as the train moves off, and away from the warm, comforting bulk of her son, "Call me Petra, dear. Or mom, if you prefer."

"Mother!" Cato whines from behind us.

"You know, my son has never been very good at sharing," Petra informs me, her voice lowered conspiratorially, even though both of us know Cato can hear every word, "He's going to have to get used to it though. I always wanted a daughter."

"You have a daughter," Cato grumbles, "She's a menace but she's still your daughter."

"Yes dear," Petra rolls her eyes, "But I doubt you could ever see Deccia ever wearing a dress, or being pretty could you?"

Cato mutters behind me even as I turn to look back at him, "You didn't tell me you had a sister." I say accusingly.

"Oh yes," Petra says before Cato can splutter out an excuse, "Deccia is the oldest, and the only girl, and then there are the twins, Septim and Lucan, both of them are Peacekeepers now, and then Cato. He's the baby of the family."

"Mother!" Cato throws his hands up, "I take it back Sky, this was a terrible idea, I should have gone to District 4."

"Oh sweetheart," Petra croons at him, slipping into the grey car waiting, "I haven't even offered her the baby pictures yet."

I can't help but laugh at Cato's tortured expression even as I rest my head on his shoulder in the backseat of the car.

The trip to Cato's house in the very large District 2 Victor's Village is full of Petra regaling me with tales of her son's adventures as a young boy. Most of them are embarrassing, but not terribly so, simply because Petra informs me she's saving the nudity stories for dinner that evening.

We've been invited to dinner at the Du'Grey household, even though Cato mutters about making a break for it back to the train station.

Petra drops us off, and then mortifies her son one more time before leaving.

"Darling, I just thought I'd let you know, dinner is at 6, so you don't really have time for a quickie, if that's what you're thinking of."

"MOTHER!" Cato goes bright red and practically drags me up to the house, almost shoving me inside as the sleek grey car swooshes off, "Fucking hell this District is insane, I never realised it before but they are."

I just laugh, and give his jaw a light reassuring kiss.

"Your mother is lovely," I reassure him, "Don't worry."

"She's embarrassing," He grumbles it, even as his arms curl around me once more, tugging me close, "I've never had to worry about it before. And it was funny when it was Septim who brought the girl home."

I punch his arm lightly, "That's another thing! Why didn't you tell me you have siblings?" I ask indignantly, "All those months chatting idly away on the telephone, I was telling you all about my life and you don't even tell me you have two brothers and a sister!"

"They're psychotic!" Cato defends himself, "The whole fucking District is psychotic. I didn't want you to be terrified of coming here. And you would have been if I'd told you about my two evil, scheming brothers, not to mention my scary ball crushing, hell hound of a sister."

"I'm sure they're not that bad," I roll my eyes at him, scooping up my bags once more; "You and Finnick are both such drama queens."

I start heading up the stairs, because the layout of these houses seem to be exactly the same as the ones in 4.

"Do not compare me to him!" Cato flails after me, growling, "He's a bloody, shameless flirt. Looking to get in your pants I'm sure of it."

I roll my eyes, as I catch him eyeing said pants as I walk up the stairs, "You're just as shameless, and Finnick is not looking to get anywhere near my pants. He's like a brother to me."

"And Peeta?" Cato grumbles, following me up the stairs, "Is he your brother too?"

"You like Peeta," I glance around at him, "I know you do, because he told me you two have been chatting."

"Doesn't mean I won't break his fucking face if he starts making moves on you." Cato growls, stepping beside me as I pause, "What? You've known where to go so far?"

"Where am I sleeping?" I ask quietly, glancing down the hallway.

The thing is I have no idea if it's too presumptuous to even be thinking of joining Cato in his bedroom. What if he has one of the spare rooms ready for me to sleep in? How awkward if he has, and I just march into his room, assuming that's where I'm sleeping.

"Where you belong." Cato tugs my bags from my hands and walks straight down the hall to the master bedroom, "With me."

Smiling slightly, I follow.

DuGrey family dinners turn out to be very different from the dinners back home.

It's not even that the food itself is different. This District tends to eat much less seafood than we do, understandably. Their meats are heartier, heavier, better suited to their colder climate further north, although Petra has made the effort to locate prawns for a dish.

"So you feel at home sweetheart," she tells me warmly, sitting me beside her, as she sits at one end of the table. Cato sits on my other side, with Cato's father, Tiderius, at the head. Opposite us sit Cato's older siblings, Septim, Lucan and Deccia.

I quickly learned upon arrival, what Cato had meant when he called his family psychotic.

We'd arrived and Cato swung the door open while I hesitated behind him, fingers playing with the dress Annie had packed for me. She'd been so earnest and insistent that I take the red dress when Finnick told me that I was going to meet Cato's parents. I couldn't not take it, and not wearing it now felt like a betrayal. Besides, it was a lovely dress.

So wrapped up was I, in my nerves that I didn't even look up as Cato lead me into the house.

Which made it even more shocking when he yanked me backwards in time to stop a knife thudding deep into the wall near my head.

I stared at it for a long moment as Cato stormed into the living room it had come out of.

"Fucking hell Deccia!" he roared, "What the fuck was that for?"

"Oh shove it," A female voice barked back, "I was aiming at Septim, he ducked, the little shit."

"Terribly sorry that I didn't want to get spiked by one of your claws kitty cat." Another voice drawled and slowly I peeked around the doorway.

Deccia was certainly intimidating, at least as tall as Cato, and built like a warrior goddess of old. She had the blonde hair that all the DuGrey's seemed to have, but her eyes are a darker blue than Cato's and their mothers. She had a jaw harder than granite, and her arm muscles swelled under the nice tunic she was wearing.

Nearby was the man I guessed was Septim, tall, slimmer than Deccia and Cato, built more for speed than brute force, and he had that intelligent look about him. More brains than brawn, although, looking at him, I was sure that anyone who underestimated him in a fight would pay for it.

All three pairs of eyes, Cato's and his two siblings', turned to me as I lingered uncertainly in the doorway.

"Fuck it all Cato," Deccia was the one to speak first, "She's tiny."

I blinked as Septim began to laugh, and Cato growled at his sister.

She walked over to me, as Cato backed up, keeping an eye on her like she was some kind of dangerous beast, Septim followed, keeping his distance while giving me reassuring winks.

At least…I hope they were reassuring.

"Well aren't you just adorable," Deccia stops in front of me, "Far too pretty for Cato of course, he deserves someone far less…normal than you. I mean that in the nicest way, I hope you understand."

"Deccia, enough." Cato growls it, reaching for his sister's shoulder.

She had him on his knees and the arm twisted behind his back before I could properly comprehend that she was moving.

"Play nice baby brother," She smirked at me as Cato grumbled and seethed in her hold, "You're scaring your little fish."

Of course, his family had watched the games. My cheeks flushed slightly and I looked down."

"I think you're the one scaring her Deccia," Septim murmured dryly, "She's a little physical," he informed me, shrugging, "We don't know how it happened. She was like that when Lucan and I arrived on this mortal coil."

"I am flawless," Deccia informed him, her dark blue eyes never leaving mine, "Now, Sky," she addressed me again, "Let me be the first to formally apologise for my ass of a baby brother," and she twisted Cato's arm, making him yelp, "And to give you my condolences on the fact you're still with him."

"Such a bitch," Cato gasps from his knees, "Fucking hell…"

"Quiet limpdick," she barked at him, and then paused, "Or is it…"

"Okay!" Septim, moved forward, wrapping an arm around my shoulders, "Sky, sweetheart, in case you didn't know, she's Deccia, I'm Septim, and you are coming with me, to meet Lucan and talk with mother. And leave all talk of Cato's dick, limp or otherwise, behind."

He steered me out of the room, not even looking around as the sounds of a brawl broke out behind us.

"Shouldn't we…?" I asked, looking back.

"No we really shouldn't." Septim advised, steering me into the kitchen, "Mother I have our visitor. Deccia's kicking Cato's ass again."

"Again?" A tall handsome man muttered from the sink, and I realised he was Lucan, Septim's twin, and Cato's other older brother, "I don't think she's forgiven him for Clove yet."

"Sky, darling," Petra swooped over to kiss my cheek, "I apologise for my children, their manners are appalling but what can you do. Give them a sword or knives and they'll just run riot."

"It's alright," I reassured her before looking at Lucan, "What did you mean, not forgiven him for Clove?"

Lucan's blue eyes turned to me, cool, calculating, "Deccia is a trainer at the Academy. She's the best knife thrower in District 2. Clove was her protégé. Practically family."

"Oh…" I swallowed; suddenly realising just how much this family would have wanted Cato to kill me in the Arena, how much they wanted Clove to come home at his side, "I'm sorry."

Lucan shrugged, and Petra patted my cheek, "There's nothing for you to apologise for sweetheart, although it's just darling that you did."

"We don't believe in apologies here in 2." Septim informs me, guiding me out to the table, "Mistakes are just openings your enemies noticed. Lucan, go separate the puppies would you?"

Which is how we ended up here, eating dinner, Deccia watching me intently, Lucan ignoring me completely, Septim and Petra asking me a flood of questions, trying to make me feel comfortable, Tiderius eating in stoic silence and Cato sitting, brooding beside me.

"Stop pouting pookie," Deccia shot at him, "Seriously, how did any of your Careers take you seriously with a face like that?"

"Shut your fucking face," Cato growls back and then yelps as his mother smacks his hand with the soup ladle.

"Language Cato!" she scolds, shaking her head at me, "I'm terribly sorry Sky. You must think he was raised by wolves."

Septim's and Cato's forks clatter into their bowls, and Deccia groans.

"Oh fuck…mother…"


A gut wrenching flash of remembered pain, and white slavering teeth.

I can't help the colour draining from my face, or the way my heart jumps, and my own knife trembles in suddenly nerveless fingers.

I can almost hear them yowling, phantom pain burning through my body. Quickly I put my fork down and pat my mouth with the napkin.

"Excuse me," I say, standing hurriedly, "I'll just…I need the bathroom."

And I almost flee from the room.

I'm miserable the entire trip home to Cato's house.

I'd managed to return to the dinner table after the wolves moment, although I hadn't managed to stop my traitor body from throwing up all of the delicious food in my hosts toilet. My nerves from earlier at meeting his family, all the mentions of the Hunger Games, Clove, the wolves, all of it mixed together to make me retch miserably long after my food had left my belly.

It's not fair, I thought, splashing my face and rinsing my mouth out, I thought I'd put it behind me. The Hunger Games are over. Time to forget.

But I guess that was the thing, in District 4 we tried to forget, to have normal lives, to push it away.

Here in 2…it is remembered. Honoured.


I returned to the table with a small reassuring smile to an anxious Cato, who kissed my temple lightly. The rest of the dinner was quiet, punctuated by the occasional question about my District, from Septim and Petra.

The best bit was when I mentioned Finnick casually in a story and Deccia broke in.

"Finnick? Finnick Odair? He was your mentor?"

I nodded and she fanned herself.

"And you went for dipshit here?" she asked.

Cato growled dangerously, "Deccia."

"Seriously Cato, you know how I feel about you male morons, but even I know Finnick Odair is dishy." She winks at me, "I'd totally tap that."

"Deccia!" Petra looked scandalised while Septim buried his face in his arms.

"Sky is not tapping anything of Odair's." Cato barked it, his arm sliding possessively around my shoulders, "He's like a brother to her."

"Cato, my dearly, delusional, dickhead brother," Deccia leaned back in her chair, "She's allowed to look."

"She doesn't," he snapped, and then hesitated before glancing at me uncertainly, "Do you?"

"Objectively," I said carefully, "Finnick is a very handsome man," Deccia nodded, while Cato looked betrayed, "However," I continued firmly, "He has no appeal for me in that regard. Your brother however? Very appealing."

Cato beamed proudly at me and Deccia eyed me thoughtfully.

"Bring her by the Academy tomorrow," She ordered her brother, "See how appealing she finds you when she goes through a District 2 training session."

It was the only bright part of the whole evening, an evening where I felt like I didn't really belong, with people who almost seemed to speak another language.

Now home, Cato helps me out of the car and ushers me upstairs, his fingers gently lingering on my shoulder blades.

"I'm sorry," I say quietly, "I don't think…I made a very good impression."

"They liked you," he replies softly, moving over to kiss my shoulder, gently sliding the strap of the red dress to the side to press his mouth to my skin, "They just…suck at showing that kind of thing."

"You think?" he knows his family best, and the words make me feel a little better. I'd so badly wanted them to like me, and to approve of me for their son and brother.

"I know," he kisses my neck next, finding the pulse as he always does, "My mother loves you, and Septim thinks you're sweet. Deccia's mental, but she wants you to train…so you've met some kind of measure of approval. Lucan…Lucan hates everything."

"And your father?"

"He's like Lucan. But he'll come round. He doesn't like that you're from outside our District."

"Cato," I lean back against him, "I'm sorry I…"

"Hey," he holds me close, rocking gently, "Forget it. I've reacted badly to references to…wolves," both of us shudder, "too. It's not your fault."

"I just…didn't want to disappoint you."

"Hah," he turns me in his arms, "I didn't want to scare you off."

"You didn't," I smile softly, leaning up into him and kissing him softly, "You really didn't."

"And you didn't disappoint me," he cups my cheek, "I know underestimating you is a mistake, remember? They'll figure that pretty quickly too."

We kiss a bit more, but both of us are exhausted, so we get changed, and slip into the comfortable, cool, crisp bed. Cato's warmth is reassuring as he wraps around me from behind, cuddling me close.

"So glad you're here," he murmurs against the back of my neck, voice already drowsy, "Haven't lost you."

"No," I whisper, stroking his arm, hearing his breaths deepen into sleep behind me, "You haven't lost me. And you never will."

Chapter Text

The first thing I notice upon waking is Cato's arm leaving it's place curling around my waist, but I'm still drowsy and half asleep and so just snuggle further into the blankets, preparing to fall back into deep slumber.

Instead my eyes shoot open as Cato yells at the top of his lungs.

For a moment I'm disoriented, the pale grey of Cato's walls blurring with memory of stone, memories of the Arena and I leap to my feet, heart thundering with terror.

As my feet find the smooth floor though the haze of sleep, and memory leave me and I find myself helplessly awake, awake and out of the Arena, awake and in Cato's Victor home.

The sounds of struggling seem to be coming from the bathroom, just off the bedroom so I head in there, concerned about what I might find.

I don't expect to see Deccia standing there, dressed in excersise pants and red shirt with the District 2 insignia emblazoned on the breast, as well as another crest I am unfamiliar with. She's holding a struggling, swearing Cato under the spray of water from the shower, and by the looks of it, the water is cold. Cato looks furious and miserable, still in his sleeping pants, which are now drenched and plastered to him.

"Morning sunshine," Deccia smiles at me, and I smile back, wary. It's a dangerous smile that one, "Training starts early in 2, so I thought I'd come give Precious here a wake up call."

"I hate you!" Cato seethes from behind his glass prison, "Fucking bitch."

"Now, now Cato," Deccia smirks at him, "Don't make a spectacle of yourself." She looks back at me, "He's got temper problems…you saw a bit of that in the Arena didn't you?"

"Don't talk about me like I'm not here!" Cato barks, "And I'm awake now, let me out!"

"It's for fun now," his sister retorts, opening her hand to show me the two tap handles that had been unscrewed from the shower. Cato couldn't turn the cold water off, and with Deccia holding the door shut, he was stuck, "So sweetheart," she winks at me, "Got any weapons skills at all? I mean I saw you flail around with your trident a bit, and you had knives but you never used them."

"No," I say quietly, keeping an eye on Cato who was looking mutinous but more sullen than incendiary at the moment, "No weapons training at all."

"Well lucky you darling," Deccia finally lets go of the shower door and walks over to sling an arm about my shoulder, "Today you get to train like a District 2 Career. Maybe I can teach you enough to kick dipshit here in the ass once and a while."

"I doubt it," I laugh softly, as Cato lunges out of the cold water, glowering at his sister, "Cato's the best fighter I know."

That makes him preen, until Deccia snorts.

"That's because you haven't met the rest of us. Cato's just a baby."

"Deccia I swear I'm going to…" Cato drips his way over to me and brushes a kiss against my lips, "Can you wait outside sweetheart? I have to get changed." He glares at Deccia, "I want you to go too."

"Sure thing baby brother." She steers me out of the door, "We have no desire to see your worm and two nuts do we Sky?"

She ducks easily as the wadded ball of sodden pants flies through the air where her head would be and walks me out of the bedroom door, while Cato mutters things under his breath, left behind in the bathroom.

Around an hour later I find myself, washed, dressed and fed, standing in the middle of a huge field of trimmed grass, flat and wide. In front of me are all the Academy students of District 2, all wearing the same uniform and standing in perfectly straight, regimented lines.

It's bizarre, seeing so many children here.

There are approximately 10 males and 10 females per age bracket, 7 up to 18, some have a few more, but they never have any less than that. These are the children who will volunteer when they reach 18 years old, like Cato did for these Hunger Games.

Deccia had explained the system over a light breakfast, while Cato was still sulking upstairs.

"Each age group are assessed and ranked based on skills, and then the scores are added up to get an overall tally of lethality. If one of the other children of the District, ones untrained by the Academy is picked at the Reaping, then the highest ranked Academy trainee Volunteers. However in some cases Academy kids are the ones Reaped. We have a signal; you can give it if you do not think you are ready for the Games. We want no heroics; this system is in place so we have the most chance possible to get one Tribute home. Clove was Reaped, and she chose to take her chance. Some untrained boy was Reaped and so Cato, as the highest ranked of his age Volunteered."

Standing now, in front of rows of almost trained, lethal young would-be killers, I keep close to Deccia and Cato who stand, fearless, either side of me. This is their world, but to me it is alien and vaguely terrifying.

"Listen up snowflakes!" Deccia's voice booms out across the field and the students, some of whom had been talking or just idling, straighten up instantly, all of their eyes snapping to the front, "Today we have a visitor," and her hand presses into my lower back, shoving me forward a pace, "You all watched the Games this year, so you all should know this is Schuyler Cavendish, the Victor from District 4."

The intensity of the scrutiny from the assembled students is unnerving to say the least and I glance around at Cato, who gives me a tiny nod.

"So," Deccia continues, "I expect you little shits to be on your best behaviour. Now, what were her principle weapons in the Arena?"

Hands shoot up and I glance at Cato again, am I a training excersise? Really? He shrugs, and I turn back to the crowd as Deccia points out a boy.

"Hunting knives, fishing trident and trident." The boy replies, and then swallows nervously, "However only the trident was used for actual combat. Cavendish didn't fight until the final day."

This is so bizarre.

"Then how did she survive?" Deccia asks the crowd, folding her arms, "Hmm? You are all trained that the strongest, the better fighters, survive. How did she survive, if she was not seeking out kills?"

"By spreading her legs for the District 2 Tribute." A voice comes from the back row, and there are choked gasps from around the field, wide eyes, glancing back and then towards Deccia and Cato.

Cato snarls furiously and steps forward but I catch his arm.

"No," I whisper, watching Deccia stroll down the line of recruits, "She's got it…"

"Vittor," Deccia says, in an almost friendly voice, "My favourite little reprobate." The crowd shifts, and I see her walking, cornering a boy who looks to be in the 17 year old age bracket. He's huge, tall and strong with thick dark hair and snapping dark eyes. In a flash of movement she has the boy on his knees and then, drags him, with him scrambling wildly along, by his hair, back up to the front of the group.

As he gets closer I realise just how large the boy is, strapping, but not as bulky as Cato or Thresh had been. He was taller, leaner but strong, and there was an ugly twist to his mouth.

"Sky, sweetheart," Deccia introduces us, "This is Vittor, you may have been familiar with his sister…Clove."

My heart skips a beat.

Clove's brother.

He sneers at me and then yelps as Deccia yanks on his hair, "He's an arrogant little shit. One who doesn't know what's good for him." Vittor's mouth opens to retort something but Deccia overrides him, "Ah, ah…one more foul little peep out of you you side slopping sack of ooze and I will make sure you aren't given a good enough mark for top Ranking."

"On what grounds?" he growls out, glaring up at her, "I'm the best fighter in my age…."

"Fighting isn't everything," Deccia informs him, "I'll cite your unsuitability on attitude. Which leads to the point I was trying to make." She turns back to the group at large, none of whom look ruffled by the manhandling, "This year, the Career supplies were destroyed, and it left Cato and Clove vulnerable. They were vulnerable because we were complacent, relying on supplies which weren't actually a given. Fortunately they were able to secure an alliance with Sky here…and her survival skills kept the three of them alive for a time."

Her hand twists idly in Vittor's hair and he winces, "I'll speak plainly for all you special girls and boys in the crowd today. Any derogatory comments towards our guest, and you and I will be having some one on one time like Vittor and I will be. And you really don't want that."

All the heads on the field shake from side to side obediently.

In the end I am the one fortunate enough to get training with Deccia, one on one, mostly because she insists someone else will do it wrong.

And because she refuses to let Cato train me.

"You're not meant for the sword," she informs me, "That's the weapon for loud, unsubtle bastards. You're too quick and smart for such stone headed foolishness."

She sends a grumbling Cato off to lead the would-be Tributes off around the oval for cardio training, building stamina. And the sight of Cato running, golden and handsome, with young men and women trailing behind him like ducklings following their mother, makes me smile slightly.

Then Deccia has me practicing knife throwing movements again and again, to get me fluid, she says. There can be no tenseness when throwing knives, or else you will rip something when going from one movement to the next. So she moves me, and I copy her, throwing again and again.

"So," she says after a while, moving up to reposition my hips again and breathing in my ear, "Cato recruited me."

I jerk slightly in her hold, twisting, but she keeps me still, so I make a throwing motion again, "Recruited you?"

"Mmmm…" Deccia, moves away, "He knows me. I'm loyal, but only to people who earn that loyalty. The Capitol," she pretends to yawn covering her mouth, "Not endearing."

"And we are?" I arch an eyebrow at her, throwing once more, feeling a twinge through my arm.

"Aside from the fact Cato is my brother," Deccia, shrugs, "I figured everyone else out there in the wide world of Panem were too whipped. Thrilled to hear I was wrong. You have support here…they'll follow you... not that lump of coal Cats-piss or whatever her name is. You're practically family. And Cato, for all he's a bossy, arrogant, aggravating little shit, is 2's golden boy. He loves you, you saved him, you're one of us, and we…we will follow you."

"But I'm not a leader," I murmur, "I'm just…helping."

"Fuck that," Deccia snorts, "You had the Capitol eating out of your tiny little hand. You're going to lead this rebellion."

"Katniss is the symbol," I reply, shaking my head, "Not me."

"Cat-piss isn't any kind of symbol for District 2." Deccia's voice is surprisingly solemn, "Not for us. Without you, Cato would have died, and she would have won with puppy eyes Mellark. The rest of the Districts might flock to her sparkly fire filled tail, but we're stone baby, we're worn down by water, not fire."

"That was very poetic," I say quietly, thinking of Teesa and her comments about Cato's surprising eloquence, way back in Tribute training. Thinking of her brings the familiar pang of grief and as always I push it away, swallowing down the lump in my throat.

"Thanks," Deccia smirks, "Been practicing, you know."

"I'm glad you're watching his back though," I say, looking over at Cato, who is showing a group of younger boys some sword moves. He looks relaxed, enjoying sharing his knowledge with them, and I smile softly.

"Yeah," Deccia's voice is soft and I look back around at her. She's watching my face as I look at him, "I'm glad he has you too."

Comfortable in our understanding of one another, we smile, and then go back to watching Cato, who is blissfully unaware that we're both gazing at him with tears in our eyes.

It's evening, after dinner, and I'm settled in Cato's study, dialing Finnick's home number, while Cato heads upstairs for another shower, a warm one this time.

"Finnick," I sigh with relief as he picks up on the third ring, "It's Sky."

"Sky!" Finnick's voice is bright and warm, and I feel a pang of homesickness, "How is my precious girl?"

"I'm well," I smile, curling up in the cushy chair, "Trained like a Career today."

"You're kidding!" Finnick laughs, and I hear him flop onto something soft, "Tell me everything, I've always been curious about those uptight 2's and their Academy."

"They're pretty decent," I say, smiling, "Met Clove's brother though. He hates me."

"You can't win them all," Finnick's voice is gentle, "What about pancake's family?"

"Cato's family is lovely." I grin, "His sister is terrifying, but awesome."

"Everyone from 2 is terrifying in some way," he says wisely, "Have they been treating you well?"

His concern makes my eyes well up with tears.

"I miss you," I say quietly, and I hear his breath catch at the wobble in my voice, "I miss Mags, I miss my mother and father…I miss Annie…I miss….I miss…"

"You miss Darrien. And Teesa."

He knows me so well.

"Yes," I mumble, wiping my eyes, "I should be over this by now…it's been four months, they aren't…they aren't coming back."

"Love, you know it doesn't work like that."

"Yeah, I know…" I clear my throat huskily, "Anyway, that's not why I called…I just…I wanted some advice?"

"Advice?" Finnick sounds surprised, "From me?"

"Yeah," I roll my eyes, "Who else, you idiot."

"Alright," he sounds pleased and I can almost see him wiggling down deeper into his couch, "Shoot."

I hesitate for a moment and then I blurt my question out.

"I need you to give me advice about…sex."

There's a thump as Finnick flails off his couch and a yelp down the line.

"Sex!?" he cries, "Is that lout pressuring you again?"

"No!" I huff at him, "Finnick, this is my idea, I just…I thought you'd have some tips."

"Darling I can give you the step by step guide complete with diagrams and motivational slogans." Finnick sounds shaken, "I just…be safe yeah? Do it because you love him, not because…you're scared, or lonely."

I think about it for a moment, but only for a moment.

"I love him."

There's silence and then Finnick speaks again, his voice soft, tender, "Then you don't need any advice from me love. Just be happy."

"Thanks Finnick," I say, wondering if this is the moment to tell him that he's the best brother I could hope for now that Darrien is gone. Peeta would have been mortified at the questions, but Finnick…well Finnick had been mortified but he'd answered. Maybe I should tell him how special he is to me….

"Just make sure you use protection. And ask him if he has communicable diseases by dicking."

Maybe not tonight, I think, rolling my eyes and hanging up.

I hesitate at the bedroom door and then I push it open, leaving the safe haven of the bathroom behind.

Cato is sitting up in bed, and I have to stop myself from grinning at how adorable he looks.

His soft fair hair is unstyled and messy, fluffy from its recent wash, and he's wearing a new pair of sleeping pants, his chest bare. But it's the pair of small reading glasses perching on his nose, and the book of Arthurian legends he's holding that really make me fight down my smile.

Slowly I move across from him and shed my dressing gown, blushing slightly as the nightdress I'm wearing is revealed.

I hadn't packed the silky slip of cloth. But I'd found it there in my bag, folded in soft blue tissue paper and with a tiny slip of cart resting on top, tucked just in the folds of the garment. It had been a love heart, drawn carefully with a cautious, slow hand, and underneath had been a neat little x and the letter A.

Annie is watching out for me, just like Finnick.

Cato's icy blue eyes lock on me in the nightdress, and I see him swallow, slowly putting the book down.


"Cato." I say softly, trying to hide my nerves under a smile, "I'm yours."

There is silence for a long moment as he stares at me, and then his face breaks out into a wide grin, and he tosses the book to the side, along with the glasses, before he lunges forward, hauling me bodily onto the bed beside him.

I laugh at the delight in his eyes and then his lips find mine, teasing them open.

The kiss is intense, deep, hungry, and there is an edge to it now. It's not kissing for the sake of kissing; it's not kissing without a purpose. This is kissing, knowing that we have the whole night ahead of us, the whole night to enjoy one another.

The intensity of it, the passion, the lust, the arousal, the need we have for one another is tempered by his clumsy and eager, but tender and gentle caresses, and kisses. It's awkward and fumbling but in a way it's perfect in its imperfection.

This is ours, and no one can take it from us.

I relax under his hands, letting them skim up and over my waist, stroking my sides through the satin material, and I drop my face to his neck, kissing and sucking there, marking him, as he once marked me.

It hurts when he enters me, but I've been expecting the sting of it, the burn of stretching in a way my body never has before, but I'm soothed by his kisses, interspersed with soft words, mumbles of my name, and sorry.

But soon enough the pain fades and then it is only me and Cato, moving together, foreheads pressed together, lips breathing together, his eyes on mine, and mine on his.

Afterwards we lay tangled up in one another, both of us naked, and my hair loose as I lay sprawled half on and half off his body. His fingers gently stroke through my hair and down my spine, gentle brushes that reassure both of us that this is real, that we really are here, and we really have each other.

"Cato," I murmur, kissing his chest drowsily, "I…"

"I know…" he mumbles back, smiling slyly.

I lift up slightly to look at him with a frown.

"You don't even know what I was going to say,"

"You were going to say, 'I love you'," he shrugs casually, "I heard you talking to Odair, I wanted…to see if you were okay."

"You…oh…" I flush and put my head down, "You're such an ass; you could have let me say it."

"You could say it now," he offers, stroking the small of my back, "I'm listening."

"No," I huff at him, rolling away, "You've ruined the moment now."

He laughs and tugs me back against him, curling around me protectively.

"And if I told you…that I feel the same?"

I look around at him, and find him watching me, blue eyes tender, "You…what?"

"I…" he coughs slightly and ducks his head, kissing my shoulder, "I…love you too. I am yours, and you….you Schuyler Cavendish. You are mine."

I smile at him and remember what he'd said to me, all those months ago in Training, "You are mine. Now say it 2."

And I give a shriek of laughter as he growls, rolling me under him, kissing me deeply.

This night is ours. And I don't think we're going to be sleeping any time soon.

Chapter Text

It takes Deccia about 3 days to realise just why my weapons aim is awful.

"So," she says, cornering me by the practice dummies, looming over me with her muscled arms crossed, "What's wrong with them then?"

"Wrong with what?" I blink at her, unsure as to what she's referring to.

"Your eyes." She waves at my face before folding the arms again, "What's wrong with them."

I sigh, slowly putting down the vest of throwing knives.

"They shake," I say softly, "Some kind of genetic disorder. They shake and therefore the further away things get, the harder they are to compensate for. So…things get blurry. It's a nerve thing, I think."

Deccia's jaw works and then she nods slowly.

"Does Cato know?" I shake my head, "Why?"

"Well," I sigh, running a hand through my hair, "In the Arena I wasn't really trying to advertise more weaknesses than I already had. And once we got out…what would I say? Oh by the way I can't see properly? It didn't seem like a big thing after the Games ended."

"And that was why you chose those dinky little hunting knives, and the fishing trident." Deccia rubbed her face, "Right well I definitely think a spear, pike or trident is the right weapon for you then, even if all of them are phallic to say the least. Still a bit of range in it, keep someone busy until you can get assistance. And they aren't as phallic as the swords, and the men using them to over compensate for something." She then steers me along, back towards the District 2 Academy gym, flipping Cato off as she went.

He, who of course heard that last pointed statement, made an equally rude gesture back.

"I've already been in the Games," I remind her, "I doubt I'm going to need to fight with this kind of archaic weaponry again."

"All weapons skills can translate over," Deccia informs me, pushing a spear into my hands, "Now, show me how much you know about spear work."

Working with the spears hurts, and not just in the physical way I've come to expect from exercising with Deccia. All I can hear is Marvel's soft voice, the memory of his hands guiding me to hold the weapon properly. I can almost hear his quick jokes and the occasional snort over my ineptitude, not cruel of course, just teasing. I can see his quick, impetuous grins, the way his green hazel eyes danced as he made some comment about 'handling the shaft'.

We hadn't even been close, Marvel and I, but still I can see almost every moment of that hour or so he'd trained me in the training centre. The training he'd given me to protect Darrien…

I put down the spear, my chest panging with sharp agony, and I walk away from the dummies, past Deccia, who barks something at me that my brain isn't even able to comprehend at the moment.

Outside I see Cato, and some of the fog lifts, letting me focus more on the real world before me, rather than the memories my mind insists on relieving.

I watch him, golden in the sun, carefully teaching some 9 year olds about proper stance during combat, and some of that darkness seems to fade.

I feel Deccia come up beside me, and then her hand gently grips my shoulder, giving it a light shake.

"I'm alright." I say quietly. She snorts.

"Well that's a fucking lie," but she tugs me in for a gentle hair ruffle, the Deccia version of an embrace, "You have to face your demons sometime, you know."

I shiver, but I nod, I do know.

"Not yet."

"No, not yet." Deccia slings her arm about my shoulders and steers me to the mess hall, "But soon."

I spend a contented three weeks in District 2, training with Deccia, which progresses much faster now she knows about the eyesight issue, then afterwards Petra snags me off to do a little shopping and girl talk about her son, and then in the evenings Cato and I spend time together.

It's not always carnal, in fact quite often we're quite happy to just talk, albeit talk while draped over one another in constant proximity. The feeling of being together, of being in contact is soothing to both of us.

Cato's time at the Academy prepared him for what he would face, but he had not expected to face it with Clove, to see her die. She had been Reaped, and as one of the top Academy contenders had been permitted to remain, but Cato…the boy who had been called was not an Academy student, and so Cato's duty was clear. To step forward and claim his chance at glory.

The preparation had helped, but it had not protected him completely from the scars of the Arena.

And as for me…well I am trying not to think about it.

As such touching one another, being so close to another person, it's grounding. And Cato and I were both very tactile people to begin with anyway.

Petra tells me stories of Cato as a child, so brash, loud and brave. He'd led the children of his class, been a natural at it, and they'd all idolised him. Of course his natural athleticism and strong build had made him an ideal Tribute Potential, and he'd been assessed, and then chosen.

"He always wanted to bring honour, glory and pride to District 2." Petra sighed wistfully, "The Hunger Games were his way out, his way to provide for his family, his District, to give something back. But of course…being exceptional can make you arrogant."

She'd then kindly told me that Cato had left a string of heartbroken women in his wake, although she assured me, that he had promised them nothing.

"He didn't like to hurt people. It was never his thing, he could and would fight, and kill…but he didn't like pain, or suffering. He's just not that kind of man."

Still, it confirmed Finnick's early assumptions. Cato was experienced in the physical aspects of love…but emotionally, I was clearly the more advanced student.

Time passed and I spent more time with Cato's family. Lucan was cool but polite, distant, and it didn't change, although I did catch him watching me and Cato thoughtfully a few times. Septim was always friendly and had no trouble with regaling me with stories that were more embarrassing than the ones Petra kindly shared. I saw very little of Cato's father, but Deccia was an almost constant presence, and I could see why Cato trusted her.

She was honest, painfully blunt, but not cruel. She was strong, tough, a woman to be accepted on her own merits. And she clearly adored Cato, for all she constantly gave him a hard time.

So passed my time in District 2, happily, full of family and love.

Until one day a letter was delivered to me by a Peacekeeper. All it contained was a single ticket to District 4, and a solitary white rose petal.

Snow wants me to go home.

I leave the next day, and am home by early afternoon.

No one bothers me on the return journey, there are fewer passengers heading outwards from the Capitol, and I think my misery deterred those who might have dared.

I spend the entire trip, curled up in my seat, pressed to the window, replaying my farewell from Cato in my mind, feeling tears trickling down my cheeks every time I thought of it afresh.

He'd been furious when I showed him the ticket, and the white petal, raging against the injustice of it. But both of us were still painfully aware of the likelihood of his house being monitored. No where was safe, and Cato knew that. So even as he ranted about losing me to bloody fishes, he never once even hinted of the rebellion.

It hurt to let him go at the station, to have to move from the safe circle of his arms, to lose the feeling of security he always gave me. He'd kissed me again, and again, until the whistle blew and I absolutely had to get on the train, or risk being left behind.

"One month." He says to me as I climb onto the train, his blue eyes searching mine, "One month…I'll see you then."

"One month." I echoed, but the door shicked shut halfway through the words. A moment later and the train began to move, and by the time I got to the window, I could no longer see him.

So by the time I get home, stumbling off the train at the white wood platform for District 4, I know I must look a miserable sight. My eyes are puffy from crying, my nose is red, my lashes clumped from tears, and my dress is crinkled and tearstained.

There is a welcome home party there, waiting for me to disembark, and the instant he sees me Finnick bounds up the stairs like an enthusiastic bronze seal, and scoops me up in his arms, hugging me tightly.

I hug him back, laughing through the tears, hiccupping slightly as he puts me down, kissing my forehead and cheeks.

"Sweet cheeks you look awful." He tells me fondly, "Was the sex that bad? Did he do it wrong? Was his eel green? You can tell me you know- OW!"

Mags comes up behind him, cuffing him over the head and rolls her eyes exasperatedly.

"Shame on you Finnickin." She scolds.

"Finnickin?" I echo, looking at my former mentor who is making a face, "Finnickin?"

"Finnick sounded better." He mutters mutinously.

"Your name is FINNICKIN?" I hiccup a laugh as he scowls at me.

We are spared having a ridiculous flailing slap fight by Shia, Riam and little Leadan who hugs my legs tightly, burying his little face into my side.

"Welcome home," Shia says softly, smoothing a hand over her son's dark curls, and smiling at me in her soft way, "The lads missed you."

"I missed them too," I squat down to face Leadan, who now has his little fist pressed to his mouth, "But I'm home now see?"

"We thought you went away again." Riam's voice is slightly accusing, his adolescent voice, torn between broken and still piping, making the words sound even more disapproving, "Like Darrien."

My heart pangs but I make myself smile to reassure the solemn boy before me.

"No…I just went to visit Cato, he's home in District 2."

"Rocks and masonry." Leadan parrots, voice quiet.

"That's right," I smile at him, "And see? I'm home now."

"Where you belong," Finnick slings an arm around my shoulders and presses a smacking kiss to my temple, "None of those rocks for our Sky, she's water like us, right boys?"

Riam and Leadan nod solemnly and I smile at them.

A small hand takes mine in theirs and I turn to see Annie, her dark green eyes gleaming brightly as she looks at me. Silently she squeezes my hand and leans in to kiss my cheek.

"Welcome home," she murmurs, "We all missed you."

Apparently the rebellion had missed me too,

"So what you're saying is that we have a number of Districts rushing towards rebelling, and we aren't ready yet?" I rub my face, from my place curled up on Mags boat. Kallian nods from his place by the stern and Finnick snorts softly from the prow of the sailboat, hanging out into the wind, dangling by his hold on one of the ropes.

"That's exactly what we're saying;" Finnick calls back, "And District 4 is starting to simmer dangerously too."

"It's too early!"

"Once people get the taste of hope in their mouths it's hard to hold them back," Kallian says in his low, droll voice, "It's been 75 years of children being slaughtered, of oppression. The people are angry…they are ready to fight back."

"If they don't wait we'll lose," Mags voice is steely, "And then what? What will they do to those who survive, the Hunger Games were bad enough, who knows what they'll cook up to keep us down should we fail."

"We can't fail." My voice is firm, and the other three look at me, "We can do this, we just have to be smart about it. How much does the Capitol know?"

"They know that unrest is rising," Kallian watches me; "They know it centres around the Girl on Fire."

"Katniss," I look at Finnick, "How much does she know?"

"She knows the Capitol was watching her, but she knows nothing about the rebellion. Nothing important."

"What about Peeta?" They shake their heads, "He at least needs to be told." I hold up a hand as Mags opens her mouth to object, "Hear me out. She's rash, impulsive; all that fire stuff they blather on about, it's accurate. She shouldn't know until she has to. But Peeta's smart, he's an asset and I think it would be a waste to leave him in the dark about everything. One of them has to know."

"Haymitch knows, he'll steer them right." Kallian shakes his head, "The more people know…"

"The more chance things get blown, I know." And I do know, but my gut is insisting that leaving Peeta out of the knowledge would be a mistake, "It's not good enough, one of that pair has to know."

"Peeta then." Finnick nods approvingly, "I'm good with him knowing."

"You two know him best." Kallian sighs, "I just hope you know what you're doing."

The beginning of the Victory Tour creeps up without me even realising.

Organisation for the rebellion is in full swing, supplies are trickling in through officials on our side, operatives from District 13 who have infiltrated the system. We are careful, cautious, and somehow, without even realising it, I become the leader for the rebel cell in District 4.

When I finally twig to it, after realising that people had been coming to me for opinions and orders, I corner Finnick and throw a small hissy fit at him.

We do it out of civilisation, on a cliff top overlooking the blue sea of our home. It's a brief altercation, but it involves a lot of shouting (mine) and laughing (his). He'd been the leader up until I became one of the symbols of rebellion, he informs me, but now he's thrilled I've taken over his mantle.

I slap him, hard, just to make a point, and storm off back down to the Victor's Villiage, knowing he's following me, laughing.

As such I've been quite preoccupied, until Peeta reminds me on the phone.

"How could you forget?" he laughs down the line, "You get to see Cato tomorrow!"

"And you!" I remind him, grinning up at my study roof, "Well, I'll see you tomorrow evening anyway. I've missed you sunshine."

"And I you." He's smiling, I can practically hear it, "Do you look very different? Will I recognise you?"

"I shall wear a daisy in my hair so you do." I reassure him, laughing softly, "What about you? How shall I recognise you?"

"I'll wear a blue scarf, it is winter here you know."

"Is there snow?" I ask eagerly, "I've never seen snow,"

"Never seen snow?" He sounds shocked, "Truly?"

"Never ever,"

"You'll love it, it's frozen water. Practically kin to you."

"Screw you," I hear him laugh, "So tomorrow?"

"Yep," I hear rustling and realise he's nodding, "We're meeting you and Cato here at 12, you're staying here with us. Well, with me. My house is the best suited."

He means the emptiest, and cleanest. I've heard him complain about Haymitch's den of filth and iniquity before.

"So Cato and I are staying with you?"

"Yep, and Finnick. Everyone else is staying on the train. You really don't know anything about this do you?"

"I've been preoccupied!"

"Missing Cato?" his voice is gentle, "He's missed you too. The amount of sighing and complaining I've been getting over our phonecalls."

"He's a big baby," I smile, "His sister told me so."

"He is," Peeta chuckles, "But he's our Cato, arrogant, prickish, arse that he is."

"He is," I agree, smiling at the ceiling again, "He certainly is."

I'm woken in the morning by a Peacekeeper, who pounds on my door until I open it.

I'm then escorted out of my house and out of the Victor's village in a sleek white car, ushered along with crisp efficiency. I glance back once as I get in, to see Finnick at his upstairs window, watching. I can't see his expression, but I can only imagine.

My heart is pounding with anxiety, but surely, surely if they were arresting me for something, it would be more violent, less…cursory than this.

I'm then bundled out of the car and escorted up to the station where a train awaits. It's a small one, like the Victor train we'll be using during the Victory tour, only it is even smaller, and perhaps even more decadent.

Inside I come face to face with President Snow.

"Miss Cavendish," he lifts my hand to his lips, brushing a kiss along the back of my knuckles, making me force down a shudder at the icy coolness of his lips, "You are looking lovely, as ever. Victory suits you."

"Thank you," I reply carefully, intensely aware that I'm dressed in my pyjamas without the comfort of a robe, or even slippers, whereas he is dressed impeccably, his signature white rose on his lapel as always.

We sit, and I watch him warily, forcing my hands to remain still in my lap.

"I won't keep you," he says it smoothly, "This is only a very brief meeting. I am on my way to District 12, to discuss some things with Miss Everdeen." He looks at me, "It seems her…inspiration…has not quieted since the Games. But it will after this…or there will be consequences."

I shiver, he's going to threaten Katniss, and by extension Peeta. Sweet Peeta…or Katniss' family, innocent of everything.

"What would you have me do?" I ask quietly, and he smiles, a white, sharklike smile.

"Bright girl." He murmurs, folding his hands, "You will bring the Districts to heel."

"How?" I say it bluntly, "I'm no leader."

"No." he smiles again, "But you are loved. You will walk among the people of the Districts, talk to them, listen to their stories about their plebeian lives, and you will dissuade them from their present course."

"What about Katniss?" I frown slightly.

"She will be kept away from them, apart from the public ceremonies. And she will be scripted, apart from her personal statements. Which I'm sure won't be a problem. You will solve this.

"And…and what if it doesn't work?" I say slowly, feeling my gut clench.

"Well…" Snow smirks and I feel ice shiver down my spine, "Let's hope it doesn't come to that."

Chapter Text

I don't go back to sleep after Snow has me escorted back home.

Re-entering my house I find Finnick and Mags in my kitchen, Finnick pacing and Mags making hot chocolate. Neither of them say anything, but neither of them have to, their faces tell me everything as they look up and see me in the doorway, safe and sound. Finnick hugs me tightly, pressing a kiss to my hair and Mags simply hands me a mug of warm beverage.

They don't leave, and the three of us stay together until the sun is up and the Capitol descends on my peaceful home.

The first person to arrive is Flora, accompanied by my prep team, who twitter about the state of my skin and hair. I'm whisked into the bathroom, and there the beautifying process begins in earnest once more.

Demia, Nepture and Galcus are in raptures about getting to accompany a Victor on the Victory tour, and so they are extra finicky about my hair, makeup and general beauty. I'm waxed, teased, tweezed, plucked, primped and plumped within an inch of my life, and then bundled into my bedroom, before I snap and beat them all with their beauty products.

There Felvia is waiting, smiling as she shows me my dress for the journey up to 12. It's a soft sandy gold dress, that has a warm winter jacket, leggings, boots, hat and scarf to go with it for when we get to the icy District. As Peeta told me, there is snow at 12 at this time of year, and it pays to be prepared.

The tour doesn't officially begin until tomorrow, where we start at 12 and work our way through Districts 11 to 5, skip my 4, visit 3, skip 2, visit 1 and the Capitol and then on the way back north we visit 2, 4 and have the final party at 12. Protocol had to be changed this year with four victors, but everyone seems content with the adjustments.

Even though the official part of the tour doesn't begin until tomorrow, the cameras will be joining us for the journey, just to capture Cato's and my reunion. Which is why I'm being prepped a day early. Sadly.

Soon enough I'm ready, my clothes perfect, hair neat, make up on, and smile in place, and they whisk me away after I say my goodbyes to my family, Shia and the kids, Mags and Annie.

Finnick of course is coming with me, but it doesn't stop him from pouting when I don't give him a hug and a kiss too.

Just before I get whisked away into the car, I remember my joking with Peeta, and so, grinning, I dash back to my house, to the garden that Annie has had so much fun growing with me, and pick some daisies.

Turning back, Annie is there, and her dark green eyes gleam happily as she takes the daisies from me, and thread them gently into the artfully casual bun they've put my hair into.

She smiles at me, and I smile back, hugging her tightly.

Then Flora is there, a sparkly blue clipboard in hand as she ushers us into cars, zooming us away from the Victors village up to the wooden train platform.

It turns out Flora's time management is flawless, because we are just stepping onto the train platform as the train slowly pulls into the station. Eagerly I scan the windows of the sleek train for Cato, and then I beam as I see a flash of golden hair.

The doors open and I fly forward, crashing into his chest and almost sending him back onto the train with my enthusiasm.

I hear him laugh, and everything settles around me.

For the first time since I'd been hauled out of my bed the night before, I feel like I can relax.

Cato will keep me safe.

It's already night by the time we reach District 12.

Our entourage stays behind on the train, comfortable enough in their cabins while Finnick, Cato and I bundle into a car and travel through the still district to the Victors Village. There we pile out of the car, and I yelp as something wet and cold smacks me in the head.

I look around and there is Peeta, grinning widely, a white ball of something held packed into his mittened hand.

He throws again, and I duck, but this one is not intended for me. Instead it splatters wetly against Cato's shoulder and head.

"Oh you are dead Loverboy." Cato calls, and next thing I know the two boys are pelting snow at one another over the fence. Finnick and I watch them for a moment before my former mentor manages to stuff some of the icy stuff down the back of my coat.

After that it's just every man, woman and child for themselves, until we eventually all flop down on the snow, laughing with exhaustion.

At first I don't even realise we have an audience until a hand appears in my view up of the stars twinkling above. Looking around I blink up at a young girl, who is grinning down at me.

She has blonde hair, very pretty, with blue eyes and a sweet smile, and after a moment I remember her face with a jolt. This is Katniss' sister, the one she Volunteered for.

"That was awesome." She says to me, giggling softly as I take her hand and struggle my way to my feet.

I look around, and see Haymitch rolling his eyes, hauling Finnick up out of the snow, and Katniss standing on the stairs to the house next door, next to a smiling blonde woman, who must be her mother.

I wave at Katniss, who looks surprised for a moment before waving back with a small smile.

"You're Sky," the girl beside me says, beaming a bright smile up at me as I glance down, "I'm Prim, Primrose Everdeen. But everyone calls me Prim."

"Yes I'm Sky," I crouch down to look up at her, and she smiles again, "It's very nice to meet you Prim,"

"You too," she glances behind me just as a large hand rests gently on my shoulder. I look up and back and see Cato, his face flushed from laughing, and the play fight, his previously perfectly styled blond hair, wet and shaggy, and blue eyes bright in the half light.

Next to him, Prim is tiny, and I feel a shiver tremble down my spine at the thought of this small girl in the Arena, against someone as brutal as Cato.

It doesn't bear thinking about.

Prim looks a little nervous when I turn back to her, and I can't blame her. She's probably only seen Cato as he's shown on television, as a bloody Victor, and I doubt Katniss would have corrected the misconception, since that's all he is to her as well.

Cato crouches beside me, and stretches out a hand to the little girl.

"You must be Primrose," he says, with a deep rumble, and a crooked little grin, "You're as pretty as Peeta describes."

At once the hesitation in Prim's face vanishes and she grins shyly at him as she shakes his large hand with her tiny one.

"Prim," she corrects, "I like to be called Prim."

"Prim," he nods, "I'll remember that."

Then Katniss' voice calls her sisters name, and the young girl scampers off with a bye, and see you tomorrow! And Peeta comes over to join us.

It's then that I notice he's wearing a thick blue scarf, and start laughing. He grins, realising what I've seen and reaches into my hair, pulling out one sodden, slightly wilted daisy.

"Peeta I almost didn't recognise you." I say teasingly, pressing a hand to my heart, "Can it really be you?"

Finnick snorts as Peeta takes my hand in his.

"Sky, my jewel, my pearl…my life has been a wasteland-Ow!" He's knocked over by another precise snowball shot from my lover.

"Peeta you bloody traitor," Cato growls, "You've been talking to Odair haven't you? That little spiel had him written all over it!"

Finnick and Peeta hi-five, Peeta still in the snow as Finnick walks by to enter the house, and I can't stop laughing.

They are ridiculous, with war and strife all around us, but I love them all.

I wake early the next morning, and slip out of the warm bed with Cato still lying sound asleep in it, to pad out into the house. I can smell the fresh scent of baking, and the house is deliciously warm, so I know that Peeta at least is awake.

I slip into some casual, warm clothes and clatter downstairs to find the young man in the kitchen, tugging some fresh baked goods out of his oven.

"Morning," he says, grinning at me as I move over to give him a kiss on the cheek.

"Morning sunshine," I return, wrapping my arms around him snugly and feeling him kiss the top of my head, "Fancy a walk? You have to show me this snow in the actual daylight."

"Now?" he says, wrapping up some loaves in a kerchief and nodding, "I'll drop these off to Mrs Everdeen and Prim, and then I'll show you some of the sights before the circus descends upon us."

I grin at him, and slip my feet into the warm, furred boots that Felvia had given me the day before. Together the two of us track our way out of the house and across to Katniss' where her mother opens the door to accept Peeta's offerings.

"You're a good lad Peeta," she says warmly before looking at me, and smiling, "And you must be Sky, it's a pleasure to meet you dear."

"You too Mrs Everdeen," I say politely, and she smiles even wider, before turning towards Peeta once more.

"Did your pre-Victory tour meeting with the President go well?" she asks him innocently, missing the way both Peeta and I tense at her words, "I had no idea he visited the Victors, seeing him the other night gave me such a start."

"What…" Peeta began, but I swiftly interrupt him.

"I had no idea either," I shrug, "But apparently it's something he does every year. It's just not common knowledge."

Mrs Everdeen smiles again, and nods, "That's what Katniss said. Well I should let you kids get going, big day ahead. Have fun on the tour Peeta."

"Will do, Mrs Everdeen," Peeta says, but I can tell his brain is whirling a mile a minute, and sure enough the instant we are a ways away, heading towards the countryside surrounding the Victors Village, he turns towards me, "What….?"

"Not yet…"

We walk a ways further until I'm sure we're far enough away and then I flop into the snow. Slowly Peeta slumps down beside me, and looks over, waiting for me to start.

Slowly, bit by bit, I tell him everything.

I tell him about the Rebellion, Katniss' spark setting the Districts on edge, Snow's belief that I will quell them, the building momentum towards reform and the willingness of most of the Districts to join forces.

"Does Katniss know?" is his first question, and he understands when I say she can't know yet.

"Haymitch is guiding her," I say quietly, "But we have to be careful. One slip and this could all come crashing down around us."

"You really think we can do it?" He asks me softly, "Defeat the Capitol?"

I nod, "Now that I know we have District 2, yes. They are the Capitol's main source of manpower. We have every district except for 1."

"I doubt they're too fond of Katniss there," Peeta observes, "She killed Glimmer and Marvel."


My gut clenches but I push it away, chest aching. I'm barely aware when Peeta's arm curls around me, and he draws me close.

"Sky," he says quietly into my hair, "You know it's not your fault right? Marvel…Darrien….the girl from 5 and 8…none of it was your fault."

Tears prick my eyes and I burrow into his shoulder, trying to get a hold of myself.

"It feels like it is. I should have saved them…"

"You did everything you could," Peeta gives a short bark of laughter, "You did more than anyone else ever has…you have to let them go."

"I'm trying…" I close my eyes, and let his hand stroke my hair gently, "I'm just not there yet."

"No," he says it quietly, "Neither am I…"

District 11 is eye opening for me.

Here security is tight, Peacekeepers alert, with hands on their weapons, constantly ready to put down any trouble. The fields stretch on for miles, grain of all different kinds, trees, fruits, it's a bounty of food, but constantly surrounded by fences and watchful guards.

We are escorted onto a stage, faced with the family of Thresh and little Rue, and I glance towards Katniss who is staring at Rue's family.

Peeta speaks first for us, being the best public speaker out of the four of us, his natural charm holding the attention of the people arrayed before us. But most of them watch Katniss, Katniss and me. And their eyes are hungry.

Everything goes well at first, Peeta makes a generous gift of money to the families and things move to wrap up, and I think we're going to be able to leave without igniting the fire burning in the gazes of the people gazing at us.

Until Katniss lunges forward to speak.

It's a passionate and beautiful speech, and out of context it would have been fine. But today it's all it takes.

An old man whistles a four note tune, and as one, as a unit, the crowd makes the District 12 salute of respect that Katniss used during the Games, that her District gave her when she volunteered.

It's a salute, a gesture of loyalty.

A pledge of rebellion.

Instantly the Peacekeepers spring into action and we're ushered from the stage. Or rather, the others are. I barely have time to look at the Peacekeeper who comes towards me, before his superior grabs his arm, "She's allowed to stay."

Cato tries to linger, but I nod to him reassuringly, stepping to the front of the stage in time to see a peacekeeper force the old man to his knees.

Another peacekeeper levels his weapon at his head, and suddenly I realise that I'm about to witness a summary execution.

"No! Wait…" I scramble down off the platform, but I'm too late,

The gun fires into the old mans skull, spraying me with bone, skin, blood and brain matter. My soul screams at the sight, but I hold myself together, forcing myself to walk past the sight to stand before the milling people, feeling disconnected, floating almost.

"Go back to your homes," I say, and everyone is silent, thousands of eyes staring at me, "Please." I walk forward a pace, "Go in peace." Not yet, I try to tell them with my eyes, Not yet but soon, "I know you're hurting, but it will fade. In time it will fade." I look at them all, and I see them staring at me, hunger on their faces, "Not yet…but soon." I say, repeating Deccia's words to me. "Soon, it will fade."

There is silence for a long moment as everyone seems to hold their breaths, and then slowly the crowd bows.

I stand before them, mouth slightly ajar with surprise, as the mob, the crowd of District 11, bows, and then leaves. Calm. Silent.

"Well I'll be…" A Peacekeeper mutters.

I'm too stunned to respond.

I dazedly get back inside and Flora shrieks at the state of my dress, at the splatters of gore over the material.

It alerts the others, and I see Finnick's sea green eyes widen and Peeta gasps, before Cato is there, large hands running over me, checking for injuries.

"What happened?" he growls, blue eyes snapping angrily, although he relaxes a little when he realises I'm unharmed, "Fuck I knew I should have stayed."

"It's nothing, nothing at all," I manage to get out, trying to appear calm and unruffled, like I don't have blood and brains splattered over my sweet sundress, like my insides aren't crushing in on themselves, "I'm fine Cato…just need a change of clothes…maybe a shower, and I'll be right for the party."

He knows I'm lying, and so do Finnick and Peeta, the three people who know me the best. The three of them share a look and Finnick and Peeta nod at Cato, who scoops me up in his arms and carries me as we follow a peacekeeper to a room to get changed.

"Felvia is bringing a new dress over," Finnick calls after us, and I can hear the tense anxiety in his voice. He wants nothing more than to follow me, but he knows that this is Cato's domain as my partner. So he stays back, and waits.

I'm so grateful to him it hurts.

Cato is gentle as he strips me out of the ruined dress, and careful as he puts me in the warm shower, one large hand smoothing my hair gently, holding it back, out of the water.

Here with the waterspray loud around us, I tell him what happened, whispering it to him, and he rubs my back soothingly.

I'm shaking as I tell him, because as real as the rebellion felt in 4 it feels a hundred times more real now, and a million times more dangerous. This game we're playing…it's for keeps, and its even more deadly than the game I left.

I begin to cry, shock wracking me at the memory of the execution, and Cato tugs me close, seemingly uncaring about how I'm dampening his shirt.

It had been brutal and efficient.

How many people could we lose to the Capitol? What if I lost Peeta, or Finnick, or Cato.

Cato seems to know what I'm thinking, because just before he shuts the water off and lifts me out he whispers in my ear.

"In the end. It will be worth it."

I have to believe he's right.

I have to.

Not yet, but soon, soon becomes the calling card for the Rebellion.

The other three are kept away from the people of Panem, their speeches scripted, and the gazes of the Capitol heavy upon Katniss. Districts 10 and then 9 go much better than 11, the crowd focusing less on the Girl on Fire, and more on me, soothed a little by a subtle promise that their time is coming.

Those two districts were relatively easy to attend for me; I hadn't known the tributes from 9, or the girl from 10. The boy had tried to drown me, which made it hard to look at his family, but afterwards his mother merely asked me to thank Cato for killing her son quickly.

8 is hard, as it was the home of Zara. Her little sister buries her face in my stomach, hugging me tightly, and her mother hugs me close, tears falling from her eyes. She thanks me, for being there, and asks me to thank Peeta for ending her suffering. I don't miss the glares that are sent Cato's way.

He wisely stays back.

And then we reach 7.

"So this is her," Johanna Mason mutters to Finnick, leaning against the trunk of the tree beside her, "She doesn't look like much."

"Neither do you," is Finnick's retort, "But yes, this is Sky."

Johanna Mason is one of the most famous Victors in Hunger Games history, despite having only won a few years ago. She played the system, pretending to be weak and helpless, getting a low mark in training, until she got into the Arena. There she waited until she got her hands on some axes, until the game was half over, and then she took the rest of the unsuspecting Tributes out.

She'd been as brutal and vicious as a Career, and everyone had underestimated her. It had been a flawless plan.

With her slight build, spiky hair and sharp brown eyes, she doesn't look like someone who could take out the rest of a Career pack, but that is what she did.

And now she's on our side.

Johanna and I stare at one another, and the older woman wrinkles her nose.

"She's softer than a white marshmallow Finnick," Johanna growls, "I could flatten her in an instant. How did she even survive the Games?"

"You were there Johanna," Finnick sighs, wrapping an arm around my shoulders, "You know how she won."

"She didn't win," Johanna points a finger at him and growls as he bites at it, "Stop that. She survived at best."

"I'm here now," I say, trying not to show how much this woman intimidates me, "And doing my part."

"Oh fabulous," Johanna groans, "We're getting babies to do our work for us now Finnick?"

"We've already got you to be the bitch darling," Finnick retorts, "We need someone sweet to balance out all your sour."

"I'll give you sour in a minute," Johanna growls, but turns back to me, "So, you're our little rebel leader. I'm not impressed."

"You don't have to be," I reply evenly, "You just have to do your part."

Johanna grins slightly and shoots Finnick a look, "Oh she's one of yours alright."

Finnick kisses my temple, "She is, and with her and Katniss we'll set the Capitol on its head."

"Girl on Fire," Johanna cricked her neck, "How much does she know."

"Nothing much…yet." I say quietly, "Eventually she will have to be told."

"Take your time," Johanna smirks, "No rush."

"We're hoping to start before the Quarter Quell," I inform her, folding my arms, "No need for any more kids to die…especially not in a Quarter Quell."

All three of us eye each other seriously. Quarter Quells are tricky, dangerous and often full of surprises the Capitol has been saving up. I am determined to make sure the Quarter Quell doesn't happen. No more children like…like the Tributes from my Hunger Games, are going to die.

Not on my watch.

"Let the real games begin huh?" Johanna says, and chuckles, heading back towards the District 7 settlement, "Let the real games begin."

Chapter Text

"You need to actually breathe," Finnick informs me as we stand just off stage at the District 5 ceremony, "I know I sound like your mother but she'd say it too."

This is one of the Districts I've been most anxious about visiting; the home of Enbrin, who died in the Bloodbath, who was painfully shy and stuttered. The home of Teesa who'd been one of my principal allies in the Arena, and one of the faces that haunts me the most since that final bloody day.

We're just backstage, waiting for the signal to take to the stage to address the crowd.

"I don't need to think about breathing." I remind him, rolling my eyes, "That, at least, comes naturally."

"Point…missing it love. You need to relax. I survived the Victory tour, and so will you."

I shoot him a look.

His Victory tour didn't have President Snow breathing down its neck, a Victor who is unknowingly inciting rebellion, and three Victors who are fully aware of the impact their words could make. It also hadn't had trigger happy Peacekeepers, or Katniss, who was losing more and more weight and worrying Haymitch and Peeta to death. It also hadn't had Cato, who has the potential to be a ticking time bomb.

And he knows it, I can see by the smug little smirk he has on his stupidly handsome face.

"Cato?" I say sweetly and my lover glances over from where he and Peeta are muttering together, "Could you smack Finnickin for me?"

Finnick barely has time to open his mouth to protest before Cato's hand cuffs him up the back of his head.

"Ow, you great brute." He growls at Cato, who smirks happily before turning back to Peeta, "You knew he wouldn't be able to resist that." He grumbles at me and I smile.

The smile is still there on my face as we step out onto the stage, the air thick with factory smoke and ground almost grey as the mud churns under the feet of the people gathered there. The air here is chilly, but not cold enough for snow. Instead a steady rain seems to mist down, mixing with the smoke in the air, congealing on roof houses and dripping gluggily onto the ground.

The people are serious, with bright eyes as they watch us. But something is different here. In the previous Districts most of the attention has been on Katniss, watching her with eager, hungry eyes. In 8 they watched all of us, since all of us had a part played in the end of the little girl from their District, Zara.

Here, their eyes are fixed on me and me alone.

Katniss, Peeta and Cato speak their parts of the scripted speeches and then it's my turn, and I hesitate for a moment, unnerved by the intense focus the people of District 5 are giving me.

I ramble off the prepared Capitol speech assigned to me and then I look up, meeting the eyes of the people gathered, before turning to look at the families of Enbrin and Teesa.

"I'm sorry I didn't get more of a chance to know your son," I say to a woman standing there with red rimmed eyes. Her soft light brown hair is curly around a face that is lined with grief and tiredness. Three children cling to her waist, all younger than Reaping Age. One day she will have to worry about all three of them being Reaped, about losing them like she did Enbrin, unless our Rebellion is successful. The thought makes me swallow and gives me the strength to look her in her soft, sad, doe like brown eyes. "I truly wish I had, and I won't cheapen your grief by pretending to know him better than I did."

She nods at me, and then looks down at her children, as my gaze slides inexorably to the side, to the family of Teesa.

Her mother is beautiful, with long rich auburn hair and large amber eyes, the same honey brown as Teesa's own and she meets my gaze solidly. Her father is tall, with messy fair hair and blue eyes, but he holds himself proudly. Neither of them flinch away from looking at me head on.

Neither does Teesa's sister.

The young girl standing between her parents is almost Teesa's carbon copy, intelligent amber eyes, auburn hair, a little shorter than Teesa's, the same jaw, mouth, nose, but there is something about her, something more lively about her.

Faced with someone who is almost Teesa's mirror, I feel the tears sting my eyes, but I fight them down. I have to speak.

"Teesa was one of the smartest people I've ever had the fortune to meet." I begin, and the crowd hushes even more, listening intently, "She was clever, brave and knew exactly what her strengths were, and how to use them for her best advantage. But she wasn't only a competitor, she was my friend." My throat chokes up and for a moment I struggle to fight it down, "She made me laugh, she made me cry and she made the Games better just by being in them. She was there for me when I needed her most, and I never wanted to see her hurt."

I close my eyes for a moment and then force myself to finish, "There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about her, and wish I could ask her advice. My world is better for having had your daughter, your sister in it. And it's darker for not having her now."

For a moment I stand there and then I open my eyes and gasp.

The entire crowd touches the first and second fingers of their hands to each of their temples and then the middle of their forehead, sweeping the motion out into a bow.

I've never seen the action before but it reminds me of District 12 signal for farewell to someone they love. In this case though I suspect it's less of a farewell and more of a gesture of respect, a salute.

For a moment I stand there, at the centre of the stage, looking out at the bowing people and then I repeat the gesture back to them, accepting and returning it.

Nothing of interest happens in District 3 except for Cato having mud flung at him.

Katniss and I, who had both witnessed his actions in snapping the boy from 3's neck after the supply debacle, are unsympathetic, and Cato punishes me for taking Katniss' side by sleeping in his own cabin that night.

He returns in the early hours of the morning, but neither of us mention it.

Being apart hurts too much, and Cato is the solid rock that grounds me at the moment. He makes me feel safe, protected, he aggravates me, and humours me, and the more and more we experience, and learn about one another, the more I find myself loving him.

It's sappy, true, but sappy, so I keep the feelings to myself, and simply show them to Cato by kissing and holding him.

Finnick is the one to come wake us every morning, ever since Petal barged in on us on the way to District 6 and found us, nude, and wrapped up in one another.

She'd been scandalised, I'd been embarrassed and Cato had simply flung back the blankets and stood, sending her fleeing the room like a mortified, brightly flapping parrot.

Needless to say, no one has mentioned our sleeping situation since.

Or Peeta's and Katniss'. Although theirs is probably much more innocent than ours.

Cato tends to revel in the physical. Peeta is too sweet for that.

We arrive in District 1 and the change is remarkable.

It's clean, polished and neat, the people are well fed and beautiful, all of them watching us through haughty gazes. They ignore Katniss and Peeta, give Cato their respect and me…they treat me as District 5 did.

It hurts, seeing Marvel's family, his four brothers, two older and two younger are all bright and athletic. His parents give me a hug after I stumble through my speech about Marvel and how much I'd respected him. They held me close, hugging me tight, and his father simply whispers thank you.

His mother, tears in her eyes, kisses my cheek, "Thank you for being there with him in the end." She says quietly, "Thank you for not letting him….die…alone."

I hug her back impulsively, "I'm sorry I couldn't do more."

"You did more than a mother could have hoped for." She cups my cheek, and I look up into green hazel eyes, familiar eyes, Marvel's eyes, "One day…I hope we can repay you."

The thought stays with me and so when the train pauses to let another past on the way to the Capitol, I drag Finnick out into the warm sunlight, and away from prying eyes and ears.

"Are District 5 and 1 going to be a problem?" I say to him bluntly, folding my arms, "5 don't give a flying fig about Katniss, and 1 hate her…"

"If Katniss was the sole Victor, perhaps with Peeta, then yes…" Finnick answers back, voice serious for once. He knows our time is limited, we can't waste it with flirtation now, "They would be a problem if asked to follow her alone. 1 never would, neither would 2 and 5 would hesitate in the cause. And in the end…if she'd just left you to die slowly…4 would have resisted too."

"But…" I say cautiously.

"But, you are a Victor too." Finnick grips my shoulders, "Don't you see Sky? Districts 5, 4, 2 and 1 are loyal to you, not to Katniss. They will rebel, but not because of her."

"Me?" I shake my head and Finnick shakes me slightly.

"You have no idea how you touch people do you?" He sighs gustily, "They love you. District 8 is now more invested because of you, District 11 too. You are the heart of this Rebellion Sky. Katniss is its spirit, its spark. But you…you are the steady heart, the voice of compassion, of reason."

"I'm just a seventeen year old girl!" I cry at him, and his sea green eyes widen, "Are they crazy that they think I'm a good person to be trusting with their lives?"

"Sky," Finnick tugs me close, cupping the back of my head, "You are more than you seem. I wish you could see it like I do."

"Katniss is the symbol of the rebellion." I whisper, "I can help her…but I'm not the heart of anything Finnick…I'll do what I can…but…"

Finnick sighs, but he seems to understand this isn't the time to argue, so we walk back to the train in silence.

"Sky…" the quiet voice snaps me out of my reverie and I glance up in surprise, "Can I talk to you?"

It's Katniss, dressed in a loose sleeping robe, dark hair loose about her face. We're all getting ready for bed, to sleep soundly before the massive day ahead of us in the Capitol tomorrow. Cato is currently in the adjoining bathroom, showering, so I nod, standing and walking out of the room, the other young woman beside me.

There is a balcony at the end of the train and with the transport moving, the wind means it is impossible to be overheard. The two of us stand, slipstream winds tugging at our hair as we watch each other, before Katniss speaks.

"Peeta said you know about Snow visiting me." She says quietly, grey eyes fixed on mine, "What else do you know?"

"I know he threatened you." I reply, folding my arms, "Although Peeta wasn't the one to tell me. You weren't the only one to get a visit from the President."

Katniss' eyes widen, "You too?"

I nod and she lets out a shaky sigh.

"He wanted me to put down the uprising mutters in the Districts," She says, almost eagerly, like keeping the words in has been choking her, "He said I had to convince him that Peeta and I were really in love, convince everyone that I'm loyal to the Capitol, that I was really just a foolish little girl in love. If I don't convince him…" she swallows.

"He'll hurt people you care about."

She nods again and then hesitates before touching my arm, "Sky, has Peeta mentioned…Gale?"

I shake my head, and Katniss bites her lip.

"I thought he might have…"

"Why?" I ask, frowning slightly, "Who is he?"

"He's…" she pauses, worrying at her lip, "He's my best friend. And when we were in the Hunger Games and they interviewed our families? They thought that it was…inappropriate so they insisted he was my cousin but..."

I eye her closely, seeing the faint flush to her cheeks. Then it hits me…oh Peeta.

"You…have feelings for Gale. But the Capitol wants you with Peeta."

She looks at me, her face conflicted, and then nods, "I don't know how I feel about Gale exactly," she says it quietly, "But he kissed me, and Snow…well he found out about it somehow. So if I fail…it's going to be my mother, Gale, Gale's family and…and Prim who pay for it."

"So," I lean against the railing, "What's the plan?"

"Even if I can never be with Gale, assuming that's even what I want," Katniss huffs a sigh, "I have to placate the Capitol for now…so…we're going to do something big, a big symbol of our commitment to one another, and the Capitol by extension."

"What are you going to do?" I ask, my stomach knotting anxiously.

"Peeta is going to propose, onstage tomorrow." Katniss looks out at the scenery whooshing by, as I stare at her, horrified.

"Propose?" I say finally, getting the words out through numb lips, "Like…marriage proposing?"

"Yes Sky," Katniss folds her arms defensively, "Marriage."

"Bloody hell," I mutter and run a hand through my hair, "Marriage." Then suddenly I wonder, "Whose idea was it?"

"Mine." She looks unhappy, "Peeta agreed but…"

"He loves you." I frown at her, "You really think he was going to be pleased about asking you to marry him to save the life of the guy you really love?"

"I don't…!" She lets out an aggravated breath, "Look I don't love Gale, and as for the feelings, well they're complicated. The fact of the matter is, I need you to back us up. You may be asked about us."

"I will," I sigh unhappily, "God what a mess…"

"I know…" she looks at me, and then adds quietly, "Thank you."

That night Peeta comes and curls up in bed with Cato and I.

Neither of us turns him away as he curls up between us.

Neither of us mentions the tears that wet my nightdress or the shaking of his shoulders.

In the morning we all have to face the Capitol once more.

Everything goes off flawlessly.

Peeta proposes and the Capitol goes wild. Cato and I are the first to 'congratulate' the happy couple and I give Peeta an extra squeeze of reassurance as I do. Then we let them do their thing, hanging back as they wave to the crowd, Cato's arms wrapped snugly around my waist.

"When I propose," Cato says firmly into my ear, "It's not going to be anything like this."

I just shoot him an incredulous look.

"What?" he pulls a face, "Don't worry I'm not proposing any time soon. "

"Thank goodness," I reply lightly, grinning a little, "Would mean you were in touch with your feelings, I'd have to be concerned for you."

Cato growls and I laugh softly.

"When I propose to you little fish," Cato mutters in my ear, "It will be flawless. And private."

"Will you have me pressed back against a tree?" I murmur back, smiling, "Will you be threatening to strangle me?"

"Are you sassing me again sweetheart?" he growls and hugs me back against him tighter, "I'm going to make you pay for that."

That makes me laugh, a genuine laugh, "Oh I do so hope you do."

Then we're being summoned over to stand with the lovebirds, Cato next to Peeta, and me next to Katniss, and we wave to the cheering crowd of Capitol citizens, who all seem to be delirious with pleasure.

Unaware that the two at the centre of the joy, are less than happy.

Especially when President Snow comes onstage to congratulate them personally.

Perhaps he expected it, either way he is here. And I see Katniss arch her eyebrow at him slightly, asking him.

Is this enough.

And the answer, as I always knew it would be, is no.

The feast, to celebrate the engagement, is sumptuous and extravagant even by Capitol standards.

We're back in President Snow's glittering mansion, although this time it has been transformed into a twinkling wonderland, rather than a festive ball. Food is everywhere and in vast quantities, and Katniss heads off, Peeta helplessly in tow, to sample it with determination.

Cato is a solid presence at my side and I find myself leaning into him often, craving the little touches, the brushing of his hand against my lower back to guide me, the feeling of his arm against mine, his lips against my hair.

He's aware, acutely aware, that we are in enemy territory. This is the world we've dedicated ourselves to bringing down.

Needless to say, he's feeling a little protective.

Which Finnick doesn't help by stealing me away to dip me in a mock dance. I laugh, smacking his arm, as Cato scowls, caught in conversation now with a heavily feathered Capitol woman.

"Sky, my pearl of perfection, beauty of a million eyes, have I introduced you to Plutarch Heavensbee yet?" he turns me to face a Capitol man who is beaming warmly at me, "Plutarch this, is Sky."

"Oh please Finnick," Plutarch's voice is fruity as he bows over my hand, "I would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know who this beautiful creature is."

I blush and then I look at him again, there is something familiar about this man, but it's hard to see under all that Capitol paint and colour.

Finnick saves me, "Plutarch is the new Head Gamemaker."

"Indeed I am," He smiles benevolently at me, and Finnick suddenly vanishes from my side, abandoning me with the man who would be responsible for the next Hunger Games, "I was one of your assessors during training for the last Games, Miss Sky," he smiles, "You surprised all of us during the actual Games."

"I'm glad I did," I say carefully, smiling wryly, "Or else I would likely be dead, no?"

"True enough," he smiles and suddenly I realise we've been guided by the crowds to the side of the room. Plutarch Heavensbee smiles at me and then murmurs, "Fascinating proposal by Mr Mellark wasn't it? So romantic. Though I suppose you and Mr DuGrey will do the same soon. Not yet, but soon."

Not yet, but soon.

The Rebellion watchwords.

I glance at him sharply and he just smiles guilelessly, rubbing a thumb over the pocket watch from his jacket, showing a small gleaming copy of the mockingjay pin Katniss became famous for. Another rebellion symbol.

This is no accident.

"Tell me Sky," Plutarch says casually, "Are you familiar with Robert Frost's poetry?"

"I have read some," I reply carefully, my brain immediately recalling some of the poems, "He predates Panem doesn't he?"

"Some works are timeless my dear." The man taps his nose cheekily, "Like mythology for instance. So many ancient cultures had mythology about the end of the world for example. The end of the world, can you believe that? And yet we still read about it today."

"Stories can teach us many things," I reply, shrugging, "I suppose that's why we remember them."

"True enough." He chuckles at me and then tucks the watch away, "Now, my lady, I must disappear and say my farewells, there is a Games meeting starting at midnight and is lasting for an entire day. Strenuous stuff mmm?"

"Very," I sweep him a bob of a curtsey and he bows before vanishing into the crowd.

So, the Head Gamemaker is a member of the Rebellion, I purse my lips. Interesting, and dangerous, and potentially very useful. We hoped to be ready by the time the Quarter Quell would begin, but with every delay, it looks more and more likely that we would have to announce war by ending the Quell on our terms.

I have a strong suspicion that his words carry more weight than they seem to, a warning perhaps, words of advice to pass onto the unfortunate Tributes I have to Mentor maybe, to hold them out until the Rebellion can get them out? I don't know, but as I move back into the party I see Plutarch talking to Katniss.

Then Cato is there, plastered back against my side, grumbling about Capitol women with wandering fingers.

"She tried to grope me." He growls unhappily, "I figured it would look bad if I broke her hand. You're rubbing off on me you damn pacifist."

"She what?" I look around at him, surprised by the bloom of jealousy I feel under my heart, "She tried to grope you?"

"That's what I said." He arches an eyebrow, "Sky?"

"I'll deal with this," I tug him over to the Capitol woman and smile brightly at her as she turns to face me, "Hi, I'm Sky."

"Oh my dear I know who you are," She twitters, her gaze sliding from me back towards Cato, who keeps a firm hand on my waist. I can feel him glaring at her.

My Cato is nothing if not predictable.

I smile sweetly at the woman, "Cato mentioned that you got a little handsy?"

"Oh I was just having some fun dear," the woman shoots Cato another flirtatious wink and inwardly I seethe, "I'm sure he was too."

"That's nice," I step forward, "Touch him again and you may find yourself in more trouble than you can handle. He's not some tame house poppy you have all housebroken…" I lean in and breathe in her ear, "My Cato is a wolf…and wolves cannot be completely tamed."

I ease back and am gratified to see her stunned expression, as I do. I look back and up at Cato and see that he is smirking delightedly.

"Have a nice party," I say sweetly and then let Cato whisk me away.

We tumble onto the dancefloor and cling to one another, swaying close as Cato shivers with silent laughter into my neck.

"You were jealous," he murmurs, chuckling, "and you made her look like she was about to wet herself. What did you say?"

"Uh uh…" I grin, "A girl has to have some secrets love."

He eases back and cups my cheek, cool blue eyes sparkling with warmth as he looks at me. Then he leans in and kisses me, long and sweet.

"What was that for?" I say, smiling up at him as he dips me down.

"For being the sexiest person in heels here." He says and laughs as I smack him.

"You're an absolute arse." I inform him, trying to huff my way out of his hold.

"But you love me anyway," he smirks contentedly, not letting me go anywhere.

"Maybe." I reply and laugh again as he kisses my neck, nuzzling the pulse he loves so much, "I do though…you know….love you."

"I know. I love you too. Most of the time."

"Most of the time?" I smack at him with a glare, " I take it back. I despise you." I inform him, before Peeta whisks me away for a dance of his own. Cato rolls his eyes as he offers a hand to Katniss. They dance awkwardly as Peeta and I swirl around them and Cato murmurs in my ear as I brush past.

"You love me. And I am yours."

Chapter Text

The atmosphere in District 2, when we pulled into the marble like station, and then made our way to the Hall of Justice stage, was markedly different to the other Districts we'd visited.

Here Cato takes centre stage.

We paid our homages to Clove, Peeta and Katniss just saying what the Capitol assigned them to say, while Cato and I made our salutes more personal. We had a moment of silence for her, the tiny, fierce fighter from 2, but again, the grief here was different.

They grieved, but it was full of pride. She'd brought Pride to her District, fighting to the end.

Throughout the ceremony I can feel eyes glaring at me from the side, the raised aside where Clove's and Cato's families stood. I glance over just once, and meet Vittor's dark, resentful gaze, standing beside his and Clove's mother and father.

He sneers and I look back out at the crowd, a shiver trailing down my spine.

After we have paid our respects to Clove however it's time for the District to celebrate. A feast is supplied, with rich meat and strong liquor, and fast paced dances full of stomping feet and clapping hands.

"Sky! Puddingface!" Deccia descends on me and Cato, giving me a kiss on the cheek as she ruffles Cato's hair. The young man growls at her, squirming away, "How have you been Sky? I hope Smallballs here hasn't been too much of a burden to endure?"

Finnick snorts into his wine and chokes as Cato glares at him and his sister, and Peeta pats his back biting down a smile.

"He's been tolerable," I reply, smiling at Cato who huffs, folding his arms and sulking, "Deccia let me introduce you to everyone. This is Finnick, Peeta, Katniss and that's Haymitch."

Haymitch has just wandered over to join us all, looking contentedly down into the large tankard of alcohol in his hand. He looks up at Deccia, and salutes her with his prize.

"Your District knows how to party, I respect that."

"Careful," Deccia drawls back, eyebrow arching at the tankard, "Honeyed mead is a bit stronger than your average bit of booze. You sure you can handle yourself beanstalk?"

Haymitch draws himself up indignantly, "I am nothing, if not a champion at quaffing down refreshments madam." He says haughtily, lifting the drink to his lips and taking a big gulp, just to prove his point, "I'm sure I can drink most of you soft 2's under the table."

Cato groans as his sister smirks, stepping forward.

"You're on." Deccia's eyes gleam and the next thing we know the two of them are sitting at the table opposite one another, staring each other down as they start to skull down their glasses, matching drink for drink.

"That is disturbing," Katniss muses, smiling slightly as we watch the two competitors staring each other down as they keep drinking, "My money's on Haymitch."

"You're on Fire Girl." Cato snorts, "You haven't seen Deccia drink before."

"I'm not cleaning the loser up," Peeta says, shaking his head as he looks at me. I roll my eyes back and he grins.

"Loser of the bet has to clean the loser of the contest up." Cato says challengingly, staring down Katniss, "You in?"

"Bring it." Katniss retorts and the two of them move to urge on their respective competitors.

Finnick, Peeta and I watch, amused.

"I'm sure our guests are horrified at my children's manners." A familiar voice comes from behind us, and we turn to see Petra, her smile warm as she comes forward to hug me, "Sky can verify they aren't always so appalling."

"Your daughter I have only just met," Finnick replies, smirking slightly, "But as for your son…"

"Finnick," I scold, as Petra laughs, detaching herself from me to greet Finnick and Peeta.

"It is good to see you again Mr Odair," Petra says with a smile, shaking his hand before turning to Peeta, "And you must be the lovely Peeta Mellark. My son thinks very highly of you."

Peeta looks surprised but pleased, "Thank you…the admiration is mutual."

"When did you meet Finnick?" I ask, surprised that the two of them know one another. Petra smiles and pets Finnick's cheek lightly.

"I dropped by my son's house while Mr Odair was delivering something." She winks at me, "I think they were sharing news about you dear."

More like news about the rebellion, I think with a internal chuckle, but just arch my eyebrow at Finnick.

"Have you been gossiping again Finnick?"

"I never gossip," He returns haughtily, "I am a man of sophistication and-"

"Hush dear." Petra interrupts him as she takes my arm with hers, "Sky and I are going to have some girl talk."

"Then I am going nowhere even remotely near you." Finnick sketches an elegant bow before hooking a firm hand around Peeta's bicep, "Come on Peeta, let's see how many of those marshmellows we can eat before we feel sick."

Peeta waves helplessly as Finnick strides off, dragging the younger man behind him, rather like a scarf trailing behind someone travelling at speed.

Petra smiles after them and then steers me over to a table serving some delicious stew.

"How are you and Cato going dear?"

"We're fine," I say, confused because what can you say to the mother of your lover, "I love your son very much," I add quietly.

"I know," she smiles secretively, "I could tell from the moment he greeted you at the train station all those months ago." She pats my cheek gently, "He feels the same. I don't know if he's managed to get the words out."

"He does struggle with it," I smile slightly, glancing over to where Cato is egging Deccia on, "He usually manages to get it out, usually around something else."

"Cato has always struggled to use his words." Petra smiles softly, "He always preferred to show people his thoughts, rather than waste time telling them. But you seem to understand that about him."

"It threw me at first…but I think I'm Cato-lingual now." I murmur, grinning at her chuckle.

"And Cato-sexual." Petra says, ignoring the mortified flush that creeps up over my face, "You two have been intimate after all…call it a mothers intuition."

I just blink at her.

This conversation could not get any more awkward.

"Is be being a thoughtful lover?" Petra asks then and I have to accept that in fact I'm wrong about the awkwardness, "Cato's father was always a bit wham-bam-thank you ma'am in the beginning but, he responded well to training and now he's very thorough."

By the time Cato comes to rescue me, I'm pretty sure I'll never be able to look him, Petra or his father in the face ever again.

In the end the drinking contest concluded as a draw, both competitors being unable to finish their last drink respectively.

Haymitch is morbidly hungover the next day, as is Deccia, and it makes me grin to find both of them in Cato's Victory House's kitchen the next morning, huddled in layer upon layer of fluffy blankets and jackets, both looking much the worse for wear.

Cato is unsympathetic and crashes around the kitchen making breakfast.

"I'm going to murder him," Deccia rasps, "He'd look better with a knife between his shoulderblades right now."

"I wouldn't stop you sweetheart," Haymitch grumbles, retreating down further into his pile of blankets, "I'll even pretend I saw nothing when the Peacekeepers come."

"Solidarity Beanstalk," Deccia says and stretches out a mittened hand. Haymitch bumps his fist against hers and then the two of them disappear back down into their bedding nests.

A hangover cure and a massive group breakfast later everyone bundles into their jackets, hoods, mittens and boots and we all trudge outside and up the mountainside to a clearing not far away from the Victor Village. There we waste a few hours making funny snow shapes and have another snowball fight.

The teams end up being Cato, Peeta, Finnick and Haymitch against Deccia, Katniss, me and Enobaria who shows up halfway through the snowshapes.

It's an epic battle, with much shrieking and laughing.

Enobaria takes Cato down and smushes a snowball down his pants.

Katniss tackles Haymitch and the two go rolling down a small hill until they hit a pine tree. The impact knocks the snow off the branches and buries the laughing pair in deep snow.

Deccia and Finnick mock duel with twigs until I sneak up behind Finnick and shove a snowball down the back of his shirt. He yelps and twists and Deccia claims victory by tackling him into the snow and straddling his chest.

"I'm the Queen!" she claims, before oofing as Peeta lobs another snowball at her head.

Even with me on my team, Deccia, Katniss and Enobaria kick the stuffing out of the other side and eventually we all just end up laying there in the snow, laughing hysterically.

It's as we straggle home to Cato's house, to get ready to board the train for 4 that Deccia pulls me to the side and introduces me to Enobaria properly.

She turns out to be another piece of the Rebellion's puzzle, and like Deccia and Cato, she pledges her loyalty to me, not to Katniss.

"They are two of the scariest women ever," Is Peeta's muttered aside to me as they stride off ahead, shoving at one another like sisters.

I nod. It's an accurate statement.

District 4 is blissfully warm after the cooler climate of District 2, and both Finnick and I let out sighs of joint relief at the smell of the salt sea.

I'd been so looking forward to showing Cato, Peeta and Katniss my home, but I forgot something before I could do that.

And it wasn't until we are standing on the small raised platform before the Hall of Justice, facing the people of 4. my people, that I realise I'm not nearly ready for this.

Six months ago, I'd stood here in this square, faced this building, this stage, and had my name called out as Tribute. Six months ago, the name Darrien Macmurra was called out alongside mine. And he'd not come home.

Katniss speaks first, a quiet, almost mumbled salute to Darrien that the Capitol gave her, unable to look at Darrien's family. Peeta takes over next, speaking of Darrien's warmth, strength and friendship, and Cato agrees, giving him the respect of a fallen warrior. My District is sympathetic to the boys, Peeta who had been Darrien's friend, and Cato who'd helped me farewell him.

Then it is my turn.

A part of me, a large part, wants to bolt, to run away from this obligation. But I owe Darrien this, to salute him as I saluted the other Tributes to fall.

Perhaps it is fitting that Darrien is the last Tribute to be farewelled.

Slowly I step forward and look out at all the familiar faces upturned towards me and then I look towards Shia, towards Verdor, towards Riam and Leadan. They are smiling at me, and it gives me the strength to speak.

"Darrien was everything a young man from District 4 should be," I begin, my voice wobbling slightly, "He was brave, he was loyal, he was bright, kind, loving, honourable and strong. He inspired loyalty in return, love in return. Those who knew him, truly knew him, cared for him."

I glance towards Cato, who nods encouragingly.

"But Darrien was more to me than just a Tribute, more than just my District partner. He was the brother I never knew I had, the kindred spirit I never thought I'd find. He kept me strong when all I wanted to do was break apart, and he kept me safe when all he should have done was worry about himself."

The tears begin to flow down my cheeks, unchecked because this time…this time I don't have the strength to fight them.

"He gave me hope and a fighting chance…he gave me love, comfort and inspiration…but he never knew that out of everyone…the person I most wanted to be like…was him." My voice breaks and for a moment I'm quiet, gathering myself together to finish.

"They say the worst thing is to be forgotten, to be ignored, to be invisible, to be pushed away and lost in memory. Which is why I vow….Darrien Macmurra will never be forgotten, not by me, and not by the people whose lives he touched. I hope…to be worthy of the life he helped give me. And to carry on his legacy."

The District 4 feast is incredible, and vastly different from the one in 2. This one is held on the beach, with long tables full of every kind of seafood our fishermen could gather.

The music is light, full of trilling flutes and fiddles, and light drum rhythms and the people wheel on the sand, kicking it up as they twirl in bare feet.

It's perfect, but I steal Cato away from the party just before sunset, taking him up the old cliff path up to the head where we sit, watching the sun go down over the vast stretch of water. Cato is mesmerised, never having seen the sea, especially not at sunset.

"It's beautiful," He murmurs, curling his arms around me where I am nuzzled back against his chest.

"It is," I agree, and tilt my head up for a kiss.

We stay there, just lazily kissing until the sunset is finished, until the last golden strands of light disappear behind the curtain of water, until night begins to fall across the sea. We turn for home when suddenly Cato grabs my hand and whispers, "Look."

One light and then another, and then another flicker into being until there are hundreds of little lights, all floating out into the sea. From the beach we hear voices, sweet voices, deep voices, the voice of an entire District, gently singing the mourning song, the song they sang, that I sang, to sing Darrien back to the sea.

And I realise that this is what that is.

They'd sung him to the sea, and I'd sung him to the sea, but I'd been their daughter, so far from home, unable to truly farewell him, and unable to truly articulate the ceremony to Cato, who had helped me, but hadn't truly understood.

Together we stand, listening to the song rising from the beach, the hundreds of lanterns floating out over the still waters.

It's still a mourning song, but it's also a song of war. Those lanterns aren't just for Darrien. They are for every child lost to the Hunger Games from District 4.

We are singing them back to the sea.

And we are preparing for war.

I leave Cato with Shia and my parents, along with Mags and a shy Annie, and slip out of my house to run back to the Hall of Justice.

Its full night now, the party has wrapped up and everyone is settling down for the night. I'm the solitary person running through the District, my feet thumping silently on the soft white sand.

I slip inside the building and head up to the Book repository, unlocking it with the key that I keep tucked away in the wooden cabinet.

The library is so familiar it makes me pause for a moment, just to breathe in the scent of the books, the wooden shelves, and soft light carpet. This is my special place, but I have to be quick.

Lightly I pad to the poetry section and run my fingertips over the spines.

Finally I find what I want, an old thin book that reads, 'The Popular Works of Robert Frost.' Perfect, I think and tuck it under my arm before disappearing out the door, racing back to my home through the shadows, through the sand.

It's only later, huddled in my bed, Cato asleep beside me, that I read the book, taking note of poems; trying to figure out which poem it is that Plutarch Heavensbee warned me about.

Dawn is just showing through the window when I close the book, my mind whirling.

Fire and Ice.

Plutarch mentioned end of the world mythologies. Many of them suggested elements like Fire and Ice. Perhaps this is my clue.

Fire and Ice.

"Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice." I mouth, tasting the words on my lips, "From what I've tasted of desire I hold with those who favour fire." Katniss, the girl on fire, I wonder what she will have to do with it. Maybe it was another way of suggesting his loyalty. "But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate to say that for destruction ice is also great. And would suffice." Perhaps that refers to Snow?

There are too many options, too many possible thoughts, interpretations. I'll ask Finnick, Mags, Peeta and Cato soon, get their opinions.

But for now, I close my eyes and fall asleep.

It's not until I return from District 12 and the great celebration there, the end of the Victory Tour, that I realise just how bad things have gotten since I've been in the Capitol's intense scrutiny.

"8 rebelled." Mags informs me, the instant she gets Finnick, Kallian and me back home and on her boat, "They snapped and went too soon."

"Shit," Finnick swears and runs a hand through his hair, "What about the other Districts?"

"Holding. Waiting. The Capitol has kept 8 under wraps, only top Capitol officials and top rebel leaders know about it."

"I suppose that actually helps us," I say, rubbing my face, "Damn it all, why didn't they wait?"

"The taste of hope, of freedom, is dangerous." Kallian says in his droll way, "Especially to a mob."

"They've been put down." Mags says it quietly, "The death toll…is high. They waited until they were all at work…and…"

"They blasted the factory sky high. With everyone inside it. Women. Children. Everyone." Kallian's voice is rough.

I close my eyes but I feel the tears well up.

In my mind I visualise District 8 as I'd seen it, only a week or two ago. The people, hungry eyed, eager, burning for revenge…for rebellion. They were dead now…many of those faces.

It's hard but I force the feeling down, and open my eyes.

Finnick, Kallian and Mags are looking at me, waiting, for orders.

"Keep 4 under tight wraps," I say, looking at them, feeling the weight of my orders heavy on my shoulders, "I won't have that happen here. Can we get messages out to the other Districts, the other rebel cells?"

Kallian nods.

"Good, tell them to keep their Districts quiet. The last thing we need is for everyone to go charging in before we're ready." I rub my forehead, "What about 13, when will they be ready?"

"They don't know yet." Mags voice is quiet.

"Then tell them to get their asses moving." I reply, looking at Finnick, who watches me in return, worried, "We're playing with active explosives here. Next blow could set off a chain reaction."

Things stay quiet for a few months, and the world settles back into a routine.

Peeta calls and babbles about everything not important, because both of us know how dangerous wire tapping could be. It's still nice to hear his voice though, and it makes me miss him awfully.

But not as much as I miss Cato.

Finally almost 3 months after the Victory Tour, Cato comes to visit me in District 4.

He meets Mags and Kallian properly on the boat, he learns about some ideas we have about the rebellion and he attracts a crowd of local children, who follow him down to the beach every morning, copying his daily drills.

So absorbed are they in their concentration at following his movements, they don't notice when he starts to correct stances and guards.

Finnick and I watch with amusement.

"He's good with kids." He murmurs, nudging me.

I nudge him back.

"So are you."

"Shut up."

I should have known it was the calm before the storm.

Everyone is over at my house for the compulsory programming scheduled by the Capitol. Cato is playing with my hair, Finnick is sprawled on my rug with Anne leaning against the couch beside him and Mags is in the wooden rocking chair she insisted I have.

Together we all watch, and chortle over the photoshoot of a dolled up Katniss in her wedding dress. All of us can see the discomfort in the way Katniss holds her mouth, the lack of softness in her eyes. She does not want to be there…that much is obvious…but it is only obvious to us, who know her well enough by now to know.

After the program concludes they say there is a special announcement by the President.

"Quell announcement," Mags proclaims heavily, "Wonder what they're going to inflict on us this year."

"Last time was the one Haymitch won," Finnick nods at me and Cato, "Double the Tributes. And double the danger in the Arena."

"The one before that was when we had to elect our Tributes." Mags eyes are sad as she remembers it, "That was a hard year to Mentor."

It only hits me then that Mags has been mentoring tributes since almost the very beginning. Once again I feel a rush of admiration for the old woman opposite me.

When I grow up…I want to be her.

The screen flickers and then suddenly there is Snow, standing before the Capitol seal, and beside him is a boy holding a box full of yellowing envelopes.

"Greetings Panem," he says, smiling at the camera in that cold way, and Cato's arm tightens around me, "As is our custom, every 25 years we hold a special Hunger Games, the Quarter Quell. This is in order to remind us all of the heavy price that Rebellion exacts from us all, an extra reminder of the price of peace, and of the Capitol's exceptional mercy."

There are two empty slots in the box, a box that holds hundreds of envelopes, and Snow plucks the next one from its place and opens it.

"To remind the rebels that in their foolish war, not even the strongest could stand against the might of the Capitol, this year, the 75th Hunger Games, the Tributes will be Reaped from each District's existing pool of Victors."

There is a moment of horrifying silence before Annie begins to scream.

Instantly we are all in movement, Finnick gathering her close as she screams and writhes and sobs, and me, crouching beside him, stroking her hair soothingly, shhhing her gently. Mags heads straight to the kitchen and returns with a pot of calming tea, Annie's favourite, which soothes her into a fitful half doze.

Then we all stare at one another.

Existing pool of Victors.

I look at Cato, whose face looks like it's been etched from stone.

Out of us all, he is the least likely to return to the Games. District 2 has a large number of Male Victors, and there is a chance that someone, will volunteer. What a double honour, to win TWO Games.

My mind then next races to Peeta and it stops for a moment.

There are only three Victors from District 12, one female, two male. This is no coincidence.

Katniss will be in the Games, she has to be. And there is a fifty-fifty chance of Peeta being there alongside her. My Sunshine.

Then I force myself to think about District 4 and for a moment I feel physically ill.

District 4 has 11 Victors as of right now.

Many older. Finnick, Annie and I are the youngest.

District 4 has 8 Male Victors.

District 4 has 3 Female Victors.

Annie Cresta.


And me.

It has to be me.

I look at Cato once again, and from the stricken look on his face, he knows it too.

Chapter Text

The instant Mags, Finnick and Annie are out of the house Cato pushes me up against the wall, his lips meeting and melding against mine in a way that I haven't felt since our desperate kisses in the Arena.

And perhaps it's fitting, the Arena hovering over our heads again, the knowledge of the Quarter Quell just waiting to swallow us whole.

"You can't go," he pants against my neck as he lifts me, pinning me there against the wall, my legs hooking around his waist, "You can't go, I won't let you…I can't…"

"Cato…" I gasp as his hands slide up under my dress and tear my underwear away, ripping them at the seams. I can feel him trembling, almost vibrating under my fingers, and then suddenly we're together, joined as intimately as we can be.

My head is swimming, racing from the announcement of the Quell to here, to Cato trying to possess me in the only way he knows how, terrified to lose me.

"You are mine," he grunts into my neck, a desperate mutter as he thrusts into me and I groan, melting against him, "Mine, mine, mine…they cannot have you. They will not have you."

My fingers thread into his silky fine, gold hair, and he lifts his head, his eyes meeting mine, and we hold each others gazes until liquid hot pleasure engulfs us both and my eyes close helplessly.

Afterwards we stagger to bed, shedding our clothes before slipping under the covers, pressing together as close as humanly possible, the terror of losing one another hot in our veins.

I know I have to compete, I could never stand by to allow Mags, my surrogate grandmother, or Annie, who Finnick loves so much, who I love so much, to enter the Games. I could never live with myself, so my choice is made, and Cato, for all his protestations, knows it too.

Which means it will be the second time I have to compete in a Hunger Games against Katniss, and against Peeta.

"I wonder if we can push the Rebellion up to before the Quarter Quell," I murmur. Mags had made sure my house was swept for bugs when I was out on the Victory tour, my study was bugged, but my bedroom was clean, "Or maybe stage a rescue during. That'd make a nice statement. Declaration of intent."

"I think we should," Cato's voice is a low rumble in his chest, under my ear, "Even without my bias, you and Katniss are the fulcrums of this movement. We lose you in the Hunger Games…"

"We lose Katniss and we lose the Districts." I reply softly.

"We lose you, and we lose Districts 8, 5, 2 and 1. Maybe even 4, even with Odair fighting every step of the way." Cato's fingers brush my jaw, "You underestimate your importance. As ever."

"They have you," I remind him, sitting up slightly, "No listen," I catch his chin in my hand as he scoffs, "You are the Golden son of District 2, they will follow you, and so will District 1. Promise me…if I fall…"

"You aren't going to die." He surges up and cups my face in his large hands, "I'd kill everyone who stood in my path if it meant keeping you safe. I'll volunteer. Protect you."

"Cato, no…" I lean my forehead against his, "No…if the rebellion can't rescue us…only one will come out. I couldn't bear surviving if it meant losing you…please…"

We sit there, for long moments, breathing each other in, when suddenly Cato's voice murmurs against my lips.

"Then let me give you something to come back for. Something to fight for." He takes my hand in his, "Sweetheart, Little Fish, Schuyler, Sky….will you marry me?"

My heart stops.

"Cato…" I stroke his cheek gently, "I would fight to come home to you if we were to be married or no. Do you think we're ready to be married? In the middle of a war? We're so young…have our whole lives ahead…"

"Sky," he tilts my head up and meets my gaze with his, "Sweetheart. Either of us could die in this rebellion, you'll be planning strategy and I'm sure you'll be organising medical or something like that…I'll be out fighting on the front lines…there are no guarantees." He takes my hand in his, "You are mine. And I am yours. We've said it all along…I just…want to make it official."

He's right, but this has always been our way, Cato headstrong, charging on through, me…cautious, unsure.

In the end though, it comes down to what I want, forget the rest of it…what do I…Schuyler Cavendish want?

I want to be Schuyler DuGrey.

"Yes," I whisper, feeling a teary smile on my lips, "Yes…Cato…I will marry you."

"Before the Quarter Quell." He kisses me deeply and rolls me under him once more.

"Before the Quell." I agree, and then we stop talking for a long time.

When I wake up the next morning, a fully dressed Cato is sitting on the side of the bed, smiling smugly at me. Slowly I sit up and he draws something out of his coat. A box.

Inside is a delicate ring, simple gold, with a knot design predating Panem, decorating it. It's not flamboyant, showy, with jewels encrusting it, or glittering like a trophy. It's simple, elegant, and I love it at once.

It even fits perfectly, and the look of possessive pride on Cato's face as he kisses the ring and finger it sits on, makes me smile.

Of course, then we have to tell everyone.

Cato goes first to my parents, awkwardly asking their permission even though he'd already asked, and they readily agree, although my gruff father is even gruffer of the idea of letting his only child go.

Then we tell Mags, Finnick and Annie.

Annie is thrilled and tugs on my hand every few moments to remind me, "I'm doing the flowers." She's so intent, and earnest that I feel my heart clench with fondness. She's seen too much darkness, too much hurt, her mind gets lost in the murky shadows of them. This wedding offers her light, and she's determined to hold onto it.

Mags kisses my cheek and then threatens Cato, "You be good to her, you hear? I may be over 4 times your age laddie-buck, but I can still whip your ass. We clear?"

Cato just nods trying, for once, to be respectful.

I know deep down he's snickering at the idea of an 80 something year old kicking his ass. I decide not to enlighten him as to just how tough Mags is. Hopefully he won't ever have to find out the hard way.

Finnick spins me round the room and bends me in a dip, pressing a smacking kiss to my mouth, much to Cato's displeasure. He ignores the warning growl from my fiancée and beams down at me.

"Precious, I demand to be a bridesman."

Peeta, when I ring him, is excited for me, but I can hear the tense, unhappiness under his voice. The Quell looms darkly over District 12, since it will be Katniss and either Haymitch or Peeta going in. He seems glad to have something happy to hold onto, and I manage to extract a promise from him that he will come to 4 for the Wedding.

He also tells me he has Katniss and Haymitch training.

"Like Careers." He says dryly, snorting softly.

His words make me think, and so when Cato buys tickets for his family to come up and join us in 4, I make sure they come weeks prior to the actual date.

Deccia insists on staying in my home with Cato and me, Petra and Tiderius, Cato's father, stay with Mags, who is responsible and somehow Septim and Lucan end up with Finnick. The three hit it off somehow, and Finnick teaches Septim the dirtiest sea shanties he knows, while Lucan pretends not to be amused.

The day after they arrive, I corner Deccia in the kitchen, early in the morning, and I take a deep breath.

"I need you to train me."

"I'm so fucking proud right now I could kiss you." Is Deccia's response, shoving the rest of her breakfast into her mouth, "Although that's vaguely incestuous. C'mon. We start now."

So for the weeks leading up to my wedding to Cato, Deccia trains me. After the first few days Finnick joins us, along with Cato, Septim and Lucan.

The District 2's are in excellent condition, and they train us similarly, all of us going for long runs along the beaches. They seem delighted by the extra strain sand puts on your legs, and Deccia mutters about mental notes and sanding up the Academy.

Septim and Lucan had both been potential Tributes, as well as Deccia and Cato, and it turned out Septim had favoured spear arms. It led to him and Finnick practicing with spears and Tridents out by the lake. Cato ran both Finnick and me through wrestling, although Deccia insisted I drill with her.

I never win.

In the end though it is Lucan and Deccia who teach me the most.

Lucan is adept at moving fast, silently, up over any obstacle, seeming to almost defy gravity as he goes. He teaches me how to move, to use my speed, to roll, dodge, climb and leap from roof to roof, tree to tree, using my environment like an oversized child playground.

He also tries to teach me how to sneak up and silently kill someone, but it doesn't take. I lack the killer instinct, he mutters dismissively, best to defend and get out.

Deccia teaches me more with the trident, taking me through the basics that Finnick already has more than down.

Slowly I grow better and better until I can defend off Septim, Cato and Deccia trying to get at me. I can't attack well, but I know enough now that I'm not helpless.

A week before the ceremony, Peeta, Katniss and Haymitch arrive and they train with us too.

Cato and Peeta work well together, Peeta turning out to be a bit of a natural with a sword and Lucan is impressed by Katniss' sharp aim.

Deccia hounds Haymitch into drilling with knives and it amuses all of us to hear the two of them constantly snarking, sniping and bitching at one another as they move around the field.

"Dammit woman if I wanted nagging I would have gotten married!"

"I'd like to see a woman who'd put up with you tubbyguts," And Deccia smacks him in his stomach with the flat of her spear haft, "C'mon, try harder, I'll shut up if you actually start looking like a competitor."

"It'd be a sodding miracle!" Haymitch barks back, slashing at her with the practice knife, "Your mouth always seems to be flapping open sweetheart."

"Stop ogling my mouth you pervert and concentrate on your fucking footwork."

And so on.

Katniss tries to teach me the basics of the bow, but sadly my limited eyesight puts pay to the idea. Katniss frowns when I miss, and mutters, "You're a natural at the stance, why are you missing?"

I don't enlighten her.

For all that I have slowly started to forgive Katniss, and let go of the last Hunger Games, I can't forget that once again we are going to compete. My eyesight would be a weakness to exploit, that much I know.

And deep down, I can't trust her not to use it against me.

My eighteenth birthday is a small affair.

Peeta bakes me a small cupcake and Finnick gives me a pair of shell earings. Annie gives me a large bouquet of flowers and Mags gives me a few pictures she's taken of me with Finnick, Cato and Peeta.

We have a dinner, which, since Deccia is at the table, inevitably turns into a food fight.

Mags wins to everyone's surprise.

And I go to bed happy.

Three days out from the Wedding Mags passes on a message from the Rebellion.

"There's a plan in place to get the Victor Tributes out of the Arena," she tells me, voice gentle, "They have it figured out."

I give her a message to relay back, "They need to get out the families of the Victors Reaped," I say firmly as Felvia, who insisted that she be the one to make my dress, flails at an assistant across the room, "And the mentors. They'll take out anyone they can for information."

"Finnick agrees," Mags smiles and kisses my cheek, "I'll tell them."

Two days out from the Wedding the camera crew from the Capitol arrives, twittering about what an exciting event it is.

It had been a tussel between us and the escorts, who had been tasked with passing on the Capitol's wishes. The Capitol wanted the Wedding to be a very grand affair, in the Capitol, like Katniss' and Peeta's was planned originally to be. Both Cato and I flatly refused but we yielded on the presence of a camera crew. Panem would watch…but the day would still be ours.

The camera crew pass on a letter from President Snow, with his punctilious handwriting. It congratulates us, and reminds us that even if we are not chosen for the Quell, both of our presences will be required in the Capitol during the Games as Mentors.

Felvia murmurs to me that its because of our status as The It couple. Katniss and Peeta's romance is tragic and beloved because of it, but it seems no one has forgotten watching a brutal Tribute fall in love. I can't understand their fascination, but we have our orders.

In the end the day is perfect.

The ceremony is held outside, the spring air comfortable around us. It's held on the beach, the sun beginning to dip towards the horizon.

My father gruffly hands me over to Cato, who softly kisses my hand, murmuring, "You look beautiful."

Finnick, Annie, Mags and Katniss are standing as my bridesmen and women, and Peeta stands with Cato, along with Deccia, Septim and Lucan.

It'd made me smile when Cato shoved Peeta's suit at him and muttered, "You're my best man."

He'd not asked, and Peeta, grinning broadly, had not refused.

The ceremony is presided over by the mayor of 4, and has an interesting fusion to it. Not only do we use the traditions of our sea bound District, but also those of District 2.

First we dip our fingers into the sea and press the tips to the others lips. It's to honour the sea that binds us of 4 together. Then we do the District 2 equivalent, gently kissing a smooth stone that Petra brought with her. It's the kissing stone, used by generations of DuGrey's, worn smooth over time. We both press our lips to the cool stone and Cato smiles at me.

Finally a thin net is draped over and around us, and a pair of joined, stone bracelets slipped onto our wrists.

Then it's time for the words.

"By the stone that strengthens us, the metal that protects us and the honour that guides us," Cato murmurs, blue eyes locked onto mine, "I swear to honour and keep you, Schuyler, from this day until my last day. I swear to protect and love you, from this breath until my last breath. And I swear to treasure and trust you, from this heartbeat, until my last heartbeat. I am yours."

"By the sea that sustains us," I feel my throat closing over the words, emotion gripping me, "the sun that warms us and the wind that steers us. I swear to honour and keep you, Cato, from this day until my last day. I swear to protect and love you, from this breath until my last breath. And I swear to treasure and trust you, from this heartbeat, until my last heartbeat. I am yours."

Together we finish the words, "And you are mine."

And so, we are married.

The reception is held long into the night, fires on the beach allowing us to eat, drink and dance to our hearts content.

Annie flutters around, adjusting flowers here and there, looking so radiant that it makes me smile. Finnick twirls her out to dance at one point and they sway together in their own little world, so in love it makes my chest ache.

Haymitch has been banned from alcohol, and is incredibly unhappy about it. I do however see him and Deccia lounging together and passing a flask between them, out of Peeta's sight.

My mother and father and Darrien's family are happy and dance and laugh through the entire party. They are blissfully unaware of my impeding status as Victor Tribute. They know of the Quell of course, but they aren't thinking I will be the female chosen.

Peeta and Katniss dance together, the two of them stilted and a little awkward with one another, and then Finnick waltzes in to steal Katniss and I rescue Peeta.

"You're a married woman," he murmurs in my ear, grinning slightly, "Cato's a lucky man."

"I plan on not letting him forget it," Finnick inserts, twirling a snickering Katniss past, "She's far too good for him."

"Finnick!" I rebuke and grin as Peeta huffs a laugh. We dance together and he holds me close, not inappropriately, but I think for his own comfort rather than anything else.

"I love you Sky," he murmurs, when the dance ends, before pressing a soft kiss to my forehead and leading me back over to Cato.

The two young men look at one another for a long moment before Cato tugs the smaller boy in and hugs him tight about the head.

"Ass…" Peeta grumbles.

"Damn right." Cato retorts, and we laugh.

Eventually Deccia drags Haymitch out onto the dance floor and Cato makes sick noises as the pair of them lurch around the floor, bickering and insulting each other the whole way.

"If you paid me for everytime you stepped on my feet, I'd be a rich woman."

"If you paid me for every time I resist shoving your face into the dirt, then I would be able to buy the Capitol."

"Greasy muckraker."

"Vicious harpy."

The final dance of the night is mine and Cato's, but it's not there on the lit beach with our friends. Instead it's when we go home, and dance slowly for a minute in my garden, before Cato scoops me up into his arms and whisks me upstairs.

I laugh, and store the day away as another one of those precious memories.

One day I will need them.

We allow ourselves three days of blissful ignorance, of staying at home, sans Deccia, who shuttles into Finnick's house of party. We kiss, cuddle, make love and generally forget about the fact that the Quarter Quell is looming.

Soon enough though Cato's family has to return home, and so do Peeta and Katniss. Before they go however we have a brief rebel meeting on Mags boat. Minus Katniss who is having a trip into the District 4 woods with Septim and Lucan.

"The plan is for District 13 to bust the Victor Tributes out of the Quell." Haymitch says gruffly, sipping water under Peeta's intent stare. Alcohol has still been banned, and Haymitch is still sulking, "However we're not entirely sure we can destroy the Arena shields."

"The plan is kind of dependent on that is it not?" Finnick mutters dryly, "Especially since they have to be destroyed from within?"

"District 3 is working on it." Mags reassures us, "But there is a back up plan."

Everyone nods, and I look around.

"What is it?" I ask, confused.

"You don't need to worry about it Sky," Kallian drawls, "It's a need to know thing…and you don't need to know about it yet."

I bristle a little at being left out but Finnick cuts in quickly, "So that leaves the strategy for the Reapings and inside the Arena."

"I'm Volunteering," I say quietly, gratified to see Cato nod, even if Finnick and Mags look unhappy, "I'm the best female candidate for 4, sorry Mags."

"No offense taken, my dear," She sighs, looking down at her old knarled hands, "Age isn't kind. I'll be the female mentor."

"I'm volunteering too," Finnick's voice makes my head snap around in shock, and I suddenly note the lack of surprise on Cato's face. He knew, "Someone has to watch Sky's back, and the more Rebel friendly tributes the better."

"Enobaria is going to volunteer for 2," Deccia points out, stretching slightly, "She's goading Brutus about it, he's been itching to see which of them is the best."

"Brutus," Haymitch's mouth purses, "He's not rebel is he?"

"Nope," Deccia looks across at Cato, "But Cato is the only male Victor from 2 who is in on it. Lyme is, but she's female, and she is more than happy to let Enobaria sink her teeth into it."

Everyone winces.

"I'm willing to Volunteer," Cato says, his blue eyes meeting mine, "As long as everyone is aware just what my number one priority is."

Everyone looks at me and I blush.

"I'm going to Volunteer if Haymitch is chosen," Peeta says it carefully, aware of just how unhappy I am with it all, "And he's going to let me go in if I'm the one Reaped."

"Never said that kid," Haymitch mutters.

Peeta glares at him.

"So that's Enobaria and Cato, Sky and Finnick and Katniss and Peeta…maybe." Mags nods, "I know Johanna is in, and Blight is too."

They then start talking about the other District victors and I listen carefully, staying quiet. The boat rocking is making me feel a little queasy which is unusual.

I don't speak up until Finnick says, "So we just play it like a normal games until the rescue?"

"No!" everyone looks shocked by my vehemence, "This is not a normal Games. We are their Victors. We play to survive…until the rescue."

"The Capitol is unhappy about the Quell twist." Kallian relays thoughtfully, "They're likely to make it a short games. Short but deadly."

"They'll try to kill us off themselves if we don't…" Finnick points out and I glare at him fiercely, "I'm shutting up…geeze."

"This is about making a statement. So let's make one. Let's play to survive…"

"I like it." Haymitch nods, and the others follow suit.

"There are a lot of variables," Kallian sighs, "I hope this works out."

Everyone looks at one another in silence.

"It has to," Peeta says softly, "The Reaping is only a few weeks away."

Chapter Text

Reaping Day dawns clear and warm.

I can remember last year so clearly, waking in the morning to the white painted wood of my childhood bedroom, the soft sound of the sea flowing in the window. I remember eating a small breakfast and then heading straight to the archives, idling the day away by reading and watching the waters below.

It's hard to believe that it's only been a year.

So much has changed.

I have changed.

This year is different.

Not only am I a year older, I now live in the Victor's Village, next door to Finnick Odair, who this time last year had been an intimidating, handsome stranger. This time last year Darrien had been an acquaintance at best, and I had never even heard of Marvel, Teesa, Zara or Clove.

In the last year I've seen death and pain, felt grief, loss, heartbreak and sorrow…but I've also felt friendship, love…trust…it's been a hell of a year.

I found and lost a protective big brother in Darrien, found another in Finnick and a twin in Peeta, someone to understand me. But I also found Cato, my tempestuous, aggressive, warrior husband, who has gone home to his native 2 for his own Reaping.

So much has changed for me…I don't even feel like the same Sky.

I don't go to the Archives this year. Last time I'd been trying to ignore the possibility of being chosen, trying to convince myself it was a normal day. This time…this time I know I'll be going, and I can almost convince myself I'm ready for it.

The truth is…I'm scared, so horribly scared.

I don't belong in the Games; I'm not a fighter like Katniss and Cato…or a survivor like Finnick. I'm just Sky…and let's face it…I was lucky last time around.

All I can hope for is that my luck will hold out. That the Rebellion really will come through and save us.

The Victor's Village is subdued today, but everyone is out of their homes in the sunshine, gathered around the central courtyard to our complex of houses. All of us know that after today, 2 Victors will be gone, and if we're lucky, one will return.

Of course Finnick and I know the truth, as does Mags and Kallian. Last a few days and we'll be saved. We won't be coming home, but we'll be safe.

Finnick joins me, and we go for a walk along the beach, cataloguing everything, the sand under our feet, the salt in the air, the smell of sea and home. We don't know if, or when we'll return here…this will have to sustain us.

It cannot last, and all too soon I find myself back in my own home, my mother coming over to brush my hair as is our tradition.

"It won't be you." She murmurs gently, stroking my soft hair gently, "It won't Sky."

I capture one of her hands in mine and hold it gently, "Mama, you know that's not true," In this moment I feel safe calling her the childs name I'd long ago grown out of, "There are three female Victors, one is old, one is…mad," I feel bad calling Annie mad, but everyone sees her as such, even when I know that she is just a little disconnected from the world, she's not some lunatic, "And then there is me."

"Sky…" she moves around to face me, her face pale, "You're not…thinking of volunteering…."

I just look back at her steadily and my mothers face crumples.

"I have to." I say simply, "I'm sorry Mama, but I have to…"

"No, you don't have to," she presses her hand to her mouth and my stomach clenches unhappily, "It nearly killed you last time…"

"I wouldn't be able to live with it if I didn't."

"Sky please…" she reaches out, clutching at my hands, "Darling, be selfish…for me…be selfish just this once."

"I am…" I look at her, and see the tears spring into her eyes. My throat closes and my own eyes prickle, "This is my choice."

She doesn't say another word, just turns and leaves, leaving me alone in the large kitchen of the house I'd been given as a Victor.

Alone, I begin to cry.

The sun is hot and unforgiving.

We are all gathered for the Reaping, the large bowls sitting out on the stage, a parody of their usual fullness with barely a handful of slips in them. 3 in the female one, 8 in the male.

The Victors are off to the side of the stage in two little rope pens, almost like livestock. Normally we would be seated to the side of the stage, honoured, this time; we're the sacrifice…again.

My stomach squeezes uncomfortably as I feel a bead of sweat run down the back of my neck.

I don't feel well.

The District is gathered before the stage, not the usual lines of worried young men and women, but families, standing huddled together in a crowd, wondering who will be the Victors they lose for a second time.

I really don't feel well.

Looking down at the ground I let the sounds wash over me, focusing on the tufts of green grass poking up through the sand. Hardy green life, eking out a life from soil that barely gives any nutrients back.

It makes me smile slightly and look up. The video from the Capitol is ending, and Flora, kitted up in a hugely bouffant wig in a violent shade of blue totters over to the female bowl.

"Annie Cresta!"

There is a heartbeat of silence before Annie crumples onto the sand, screaming and screaming, shaking her head as Peacekeepers converge.

If ever I'd doubted myself. I don't now.

"I volunteer!" I call, stepping forward, head held proudly, trying to not look as sick as I feel, "I Volunteer as the female Victor for District 4."

This year I don't need to be supported up onto the stage, this year I don't throw up in terror. This year I walk up onto the stage and face my District who gaze up at me. They know me, I'm their daughter, the Victor of the last games, the one they celebrated with the Victory…the one who celebrated her wedding a mere few weeks ago at the end of spring.

It's soft, like whispering, but I see them all softly clapping, not like the applause of the Capitol, baying for blood, this is soft, gentle pattering. They are saluting me, and I bow my head, acknowledging them.


The world tips slightly and as I straighten, I feel even more woozy. But I come back to myself as Flora's voice crashes through my ears.

"Finnick Odair!"

How cruel, I think vaguely, if I had not volunteered, if this was truly a Hunger Games, Finnick would be fighting against the woman he loves. He would die to keep her alive. But she would not survive the loss of him.

He walks up onto the stage with his easy grace and charm and walks straight over to me.

We stand together, the Tributes for District 4, our foreheads pressed together, and I felt my eyes prick.

"Well! I give you your Tributes for District 4!" Flora's voice breaks into our haze, and Finnick smirks faintly, winking at me. I wink back with a smile and pull back, "Shake hands! Shake hands," she twitters at us and Finnick rolls his eyes.

He takes my hand in his and instead of shaking it he brings it up to his lips. I follow, and press my own lips to his hand, holding mine clasped. It's intimate, and it's a declaration to the Capitol.

This is a bond they will not break.

Flora starts to twitter again and ushers us away, forcing us to let go and move.


Three steps, that's as far as I get before the world tilts alarmingly and I fall, the world dissolving into darkness, Finnick's cry of shock the last thing I hear.

"Reapings really don't agree with you do they?" Finnick's face swims into view, as does his voice, "Seriously Sky, first time vomiting and this time fainting? Must you?"

"Cause I was totally planning it," I mutter at him, the world slowly coming into focus behind him. I recognise the gleaming black and silver of the train compartment ceiling, "The train?"

"Apparently we don't get goodbyes this year." Finnick rolls his eyes, and leans in to kiss the tip of my nose, "You scared me blue Sky."

"Sorry…" I sit up slightly and sigh, "I wasn't feeling well…the whole ceremony."

He frowns and strokes my cheek, settling on the bed cross legged, "Has it happened before? Fainting?"

I shake my head, "No never…I think I've got a bit of a bug though. I've been feeling nauseous on and off for a week."

Finnick frowns and he looks at me more closely, practically peering, "Why didn't you say something?"

"You would have fussed, and tried to stop me Volunteering."

He makes a non committal sound and keeps staring at me, a frown on his handsome face, "Sky…when was your last monthly?"

"Finnick!" I flail slightly, shocked, "You can't just…that's private!"

"Sky!" He barks it, and the sound forces me to focus. He never sounds so serious, there's always a joke somewhere behind it, always something playful. Not this time. This time he's serious, and it scares me, "When!"

I think and then I frown. I hadn't noticed, being busy as I was, and absorbed in the preparations for the Quell…but the last one…I haven't had one since…

It's like someone drops a massive boulder into a lake.

I stare at Finnick and he stares back, reading the answer on my face.

"Fuck." I whisper, "Oh my god…Finnick…"

The world is narrowing around me and then suddenly Finnick is there, pulling me onto his lap, holding me close. He grounds me, keeps the panic at bay as I struggle with the feelings swamping me.

"I'm pregnant aren't I?" I whisper and he nods.

"You're pregnant."

"Cato…" I press my eyes closed and burrow close to him, "God, he can't know…"

"What?" He blinks down at me, "Why can't Pancake know about sproglet?"

"Have you met Cato?" I ask, peering at him, "Are you high? He's going to be bad enough if he's in the Games! Can you imagine the over protectiveness if there is a baby in the mix?"

"Sky…" Finnick rolls his eyes, "Protection is good, especially in a Hunger Games." Then he narrows his eyes at me, "Speaking of protection Sky…"

"Finnick…" I groan but my former mentor shakes his head.

"It's your choice…I won't tell him but…Sky…tell him please. You know I love tugging on Cato's alpha wolf tail, but that man loves you…keeping something like this from him. It'd hurt him."

He couldn't have said any better of an argument; he knows I'd never want to hurt Cato.

"I hate you," I mutter, mutinous.

"You love me." He grins and wiggles up the bed to curl up beside me, "You know you do."

"You're ridiculous."

"I'm lovable." He reaches out and lightly drags his fingertips across my belly, "Also…side note, I hadn't noticed before but pregnancy makes your breasts look spectacular. OW!"

I feel no guilt in kicking him, literally, off the bed.

We watch the Reapings that night, just like we did last year, and I make mental notes.

District 1 reap a brother and sister, the beautiful Cashmere and handsome Gloss, and District 2 ends up with two volunteers.

Enobaria first, and then Cato who leaps in before Brutus can arrogantly step forward. Finnick squeezes my hand gently and I squeeze back.

District 3 is represented by two older Victors named Wiress and Beetee. The woman seems a little mad, muttering to herself throughout the entire ceremony, and humming quietly, but she's sweet, that much is obvious.

Then we watch our own Reaping, Annie being called, and my immediate Volunteering. Then Finnick, and our handshake. We turn to go, and the camera cuts off just as I start to crumple, Finnick lunging to catch me.

"Thanks for that," I say quietly and he grins.

"No problem. Your husband is probably tearing his train apart though…you know that right?"

"Cato worries."

"HAH!" Finnick snorts, "Understatement!"

It doesn't take long for Cato to find me by the chariots the next day, after I've been primped back to Capitol standards of beauty.

In fact I hear him before I see him.

Heavy footsteps clang through the waiting bay and I turn, to see him striding towards me, handsome face concerned as he pulls me into his arms, kissing me sweetly, ignoring everyone around us.

I lean into his embrace, melting against his warm mouth, and sigh contentedly. This is where I belong…

"You alright?" he asks gruffly, easing back to gently stroke my cheek, "I saw the Reaping…"

"I just fainted," I reassure him gently, kissing him softly again, "It was so hot…I got a little heat sick."

Relief fills his face and he tugs me close to kiss me again, slow, deep kisses that fill my nervous insides with warmth.

"I have something to tell you later…" I murmur, softly, nuzzling his jaw gently, "A good something," I add as I feel him tense, "Relax."

"We'll go to the garden," he kisses my forehead, "Once this…ridiculousness is over."

I step back and get my first look at what he's wearing.

Instantly I start grinning.

"What?" he asks, looking down at his bared chest, scowling slightly, "I wore a skirt last year too."

"You're so uncultured," I inform him, reaching out to tug the purple cloak straight and run my hands gratuitously over his taut stomach muscles, "You're Ares."

"That's a god right?" he pulls a face.

I roll my eyes, "Yes dumbass, he was the Greek god of War. Hence the whopping black sword strapped to your side."

"So why were you grinning?" he tweaks my nose, "I was a god last year too…although not so specific."

"I believe our designers may have collaborated." I gesture to my own costume.

My hair is loose, but there are pearls draped through them, softly illuminated pearls that gleam. My gown is almost Grecian, almost sheer, although I'm granted flesh coloured underwear this year to protect my modesty somewhat. It's the same colour as the pearls, and belted slightly around my waist with a silver cord. It's simple and beautiful, but I know Felvia.

There is a trick to it; I'm just not privy to it yet.

My skin has been smoothed with a cream that has faint glitter in it, and Felvia had been insistent that it be all over my body. It's part of the trick I'm sure.

Still either way, I know what they were angling for.

"I'm meant to be Aphrodite," I shrug, "Goddess of love, who was born from the sea….apparently. Like a pearl."

"Ergh symbolism." Cato mutters, rolling his eyes, "Did Ares and Aphrodite get it on?"

I shake my head at him, "I don't know why I married you sometimes."

"Sure you do…" he smirks, "I affect you like no one else."

"Oh go shove your head in a bucket."

"Ah…young love…" Finnick joins us, oiled up and wearing…well…the best description could be net like underwear.

Cato takes one look at him and falls about laughing.

"Finnick, you look nice," Peeta joins us, a dry smile on his face for my former mentor and he gives me a kiss and Cato a friendly backslap, "Sky, beautiful as always."

"What about me?" Cato pulls a face, "Sometimes I feel like you don't appreciate me Lover-boy."

"You look cute Cato." Peeta shoots his friend a look, "Happy?"

"Happier if you'd used something a bit manlier than 'cute'." Cato mutters back.

It's then that we actually get a proper look at Peeta and Katniss, who joins us at that moment. They look terrifying and beautiful, rather like avenging demons out of one of the books I read.

"Hot," Finnick informs Katniss, who rolls her eyes and ignores him, "You too Peeta, I'd shag you."

"Oh you're going to pay for that," Peeta singsongs, as Katniss glares at Finnick, and then he starts chortling, Cato too.

Capitol organisers pick that moment to start ushering us off towards our respective carriages, and Finnick turns to Peeta, grabbing the younger mans hand.

"Here…have some sugar cubes. Maybe they'll sweeten milady sourpuss up."

And then he grabs my arm and steers me back down the line towards our carriage, away from Katniss' muttering.

"I so want to shove an arrow somewhere…"

Finnick and I look at one another, and Cato snorts, walking beside us, "You have that effect on a lot of people don't you Odair?"

"Shut up Pancake."

Cato gives me a quick kiss, flips the bird at Finnick, who returns it with a smile, and then he walks down the line to join Enobaria, who looks rather frightening…she has wings.

"The world makes sense again," Finnick helps me up onto our carriage, "Someone finally dressed her as a damn harpy."

We watch the first three carriages go and then…then it is our turn.

Our horses pick up speed and then suddenly we're out in the promenade, bright lights blinding us.

The crowd screams in delight, and Finnick turns to look at me, before laughing and raising our hands in the air, much like Peeta and Katniss did last year.

The lights from the parade promenade have set off the dress and the cream on my skin.

I glow.

I see myself on a screen, blurry from distance, but I gasp at the sight. I look ethereal, beautiful, and pure. But I don't look virginal, not the innocent little girl from last year. Now I look like a woman, powerful and glowing.

I shoot Finnick a look, and he blinks back innocently.

He told Felvia about the baby, I'm sure.


I am the first to arrive at the garden, but Cato is close behind me.

It shows how eager he is for us to be alone, to be sure of no unfriendly ears, because I'd shed my parade clothes and showered quickly, full of nervous energy.

He takes me in his arms and we just stand there in the grove of trees, so familiar and so strange to be back at the place where it all began. He holds me close, lips against my hair and I sigh, relaxing against me.

"I missed you." I murmur, and feel his mouth curl up.

"As you should."

"Arrogant Career."

"Little fish." He leans down and kisses me, soft and gentle, "You going to let me have the pleasure of shagging you through the Games this time?"

"No!" I roll my eyes, "Ass."

He laughs and then moves back, sitting on the bench and tugging me down onto his lap.

"You have something to tell me?" he tucks a strand of my hair behind my ear.


I take a deep breath and face him, feeling nervous and unsure as I look into his clear blue eyes.

"Remember the night of the Quell announcement?" I say softly, "You…we…got a little carried away in the heat of the moment. You needed to possess me utterly…"

He shrugs smugly.

"…and I was perfectly willing." I swallow and then continue carefully, "We weren't exactly careful…sexually…protection wise."

He frowns slightly at me, not following, but I can see the exact moment when the thoughts click and he twigs to what I mean.

His eyes widen.

"You…" he points at me, "We…" he points at himself and then stares down at my stomach, "We?"

"Yeah…" I smile weakly, "Hope you don't hate kids Cato…"

"When did you…?" he asks and I reassure him quickly.

"Finnick figured it out before I did, on the train. I've been feeling nauseous and apparently fainting happens when you're….you know… pregnant."

"Pregnant," he stares at me, and then down at my stomach again, smoothing one large hand over my stomach, "Fuck. I'm going to be a father…"

Suddenly his head snaps up again, eyes sharpening, "Why the fuck did you volunteer if you're pregnant!"

"I didn't know!" I remind him heatedly, "I'd missed the signs, I told you Finnick figured it out."

"Fuck!" He stands, and I slide to the side, watching him, "Fuck!" he punches a tree, "It was bad enough when it was just you, just you the woman I fucking love going into a life or death game!"

"Cato…" I move over to him and rub my hand slowly over his taut, muscled back, tight with controlled anger and fear, "Cato…love…we'll be okay….you know we'll be okay."

He looks at me, looking tortured, mouth opening, wanting to say something, before closing again, and he turns away.

"Yeah I know."

I wake in the night, and find Cato gone from bed.

For a moment I lay there, uncertain, sweating slightly from the nightmare that had wrenched me from the depths of slumber, and then slowly I slide out of bed.

Maybe Cato will be out in the living area, getting a drink. I could certainly use a cool water right now.

I pad from the room, and walk down the corridor, towards the living area, when suddenly I hear voices from Mags' room.

Déjà vu swamps me for a moment, and for a heartbeat it's Darrien's voice I hear with Mags and Finnick's, not Cato's.

"…she doesn't know?"

"She can't know," Finnick's voice is unusually grave, "Especially now."

"Was she going to be the one before?" Cato asks, his voice strained, "Before this…new development."

"Yes." Mags' voice is quiet and gentle, "She is perfect, especially in her ignorance."

"We're using her," Cato sounds wrecked, "How can you ask me to lie…"

"You're not lying." Finnick's voice is firm, "It may not come to it, but so help us, if it does…"

"It has to be flawless." Mags says quietly, "We don't get any second chances with this Cato. You're going to have to trust us."

"Does Peeta know?" Cato asks heavily.

There is a silence and then, "Yes." Finnick says quietly, "We'll be the last."

"It'll kill her."

"She's stronger than that." A creaking sound comes and then Finnick's voice speaks again, closer to the door, "We should get some rest, training tomorrow. And we don't want her to wake and find you missing."

Lightly I run back to my bed, our bed and snuggle into the blankets. Soon enough Cato returns, and is distracted enough to buy my fake rousing at his return. He curls around me protectively…and soon enough his breaths even, drifting into sleep.

I do not.

Something is happening. Some plan I don't know…

A part of me wants to know, wants to rail at them for not trusting me. But a larger part trusts them.

They wouldn't keep anything that really was dangerous from me.

I have to trust in that.

If there is a plan I don't know, there will be a good reason I don't know.

I have to trust them.

Slowly, after a long time, I too fall back to sleep.

Chapter Text

The training centre looks exactly the same.

Even the instructors are the same ones who taught the Tributes from my Hunger Games. For a moment there is confusion, my mind supplying the memory of Darrien striding beside me, of Cato and his Careers standing, mocking, of Teesa always watching, of little eager Zara. But when I blink it's Finnick beside me and the others are nowhere to be seen.

Walking over to the numbered disks for the formal beginning to training, I glance over at Cato. My husband meets my gaze, and mimes throwing up, just like he did when I met his gaze here last year. This time, instead of looking away, I just flip him the bird, which makes him grin.

I then scan the rest of the crowd of assembling Victor Tributes.

Katniss and Peeta arrive together, once again dressed as the team they are. Katniss still doesn't know that this isn't going to be an actual Hunger Games, nor does she know anything about the Rebellion. And looking around I realise that she may well be the only one. Peeta catches my eye and tilts his head, looking at my stomach meaningfully before looking at Cato.

I shoot my husband a glare, but he just shrugs.

Boys are worse gossips than women for sure.

Johanna is down the line, arms folded, but hip slightly cocked. She radiates 'don't fuck with me' and I glance towards Cato again. Maybe I should keep them apart…I don't know who would come out the better from those two tangling. Her District partner Blight is an unassuming man, with dark hair and a pair of dark brown eyes which are considering Katniss. He's got the arm muscles that I saw on almost all the workers of District 7 but the way he moves a half step behind Johanna shows me that he's a follower, not a leader.

Eventually we're all gathered and then Atala stats telling us the rules, the rules which are exactly the same as they were last year, and probably all other years too.

I tune her out, and wait.

Soon enough we're released to train as we wish, and the Victors start to disperse, all eyeing one another curiously.

"Come with me love," Finnick loops his arm with mine and guides me over towards the edible plants area, "You can teach me all about what is safe and unsafe to munch on."

"If you'd studied, like I told you to, you wouldn't need me to tell you." I remind him, rolling my eyes.

Johanna, walking past, snorts with amusement.

Finnick makes a rude hand gesture her way, without looking away from me, "I don't have the dedication for books and learning like you do sweet cheeks. Now…tell me things. Fill my mind with knowledge."

"Good luck with that," Johanna mutters, leaning against the identification table beside me, "The odds are so not in your favour."

"And what do you know about plants?" Finnick folds his arms, challenging the District 7 Victor, "C'mon Johanna…lay it on me."

"You're an idiot," Johanna shakes her head at him, and then looks at me, "You know he's an idiot right?"

"He has his moments," I reply and look back at my District partner, "Finnick, she's from 7."


"So we spend our days out in the forest working on timber, genius." Johanna sasses back, "Edible plants make excellent snacks during work."

"Prove it," Finnick moves around the table to stand beside Johanna, "Show me your skills."

It's the most competitive session of plant identification I've ever seen, but soon enough I edge away from the two Victors at the table. Johanna has a plant root in her hand and is threatening to beat Finnick with it if he doesn't remember the name.

I figure now is a good time to move away.

Moving away I pause as a pair of Victors wave me over to the traps station, my favourite one from last year.

I don't know the two standing there, but after a moment I place them as the two chosen from District 5, Teesa's District, and walk over to join them.

"Sky," the woman greets, holding her hand out to me and clasping it in the two of hers, "It is so lovely to meet you. I'm Ria and this is Sefir."

She is quite lovely looking, tall and athletic with long black hair that she has braided off her face, and intelligent blue eyes, set under arching brows. Sefir is quite handsome too, with hazel green eyes, dark hair and a wry mouth. He's built solidly, not too bulky, but he's not slender either. He gives me a half smile.

"Nice to meet you," I reply, smiling at them both, and they relax slightly, Ria smiling even wider.

"We were the mentors for last years games," Sefir murmurs quietly, looping a few ropes around one another and frowning slightly when the entire thing falls apart, "Fuck…I mean…balls…" he glances at me, "Uh, though I suppose you're used to swearing…so…fuck."

"You mentored Teesa and Enbrin?" I say, glancing between them, and Ria smiles sadly while Sefir nods, pursing his lips.

"We hoped…with Teesa, she was a smart little thing." Ria sighs sadly.

"It's never easy," Sefir grunts, trying to redo his trap. Once again it fails and the sticks collapse in a heap, "This stuff is too sneaky for me. I need a fucking machete or something."

"Sefir," Ria scolds, "Stop being such a brute."

"It works for me," he mutters, "People think if you can collapse sculls with a hammer then you don't have brains. Works for me."

"We were very happy when you won," Ria touches my shoulder gently as she steps into the station, attempting a different trap to Sefir, "We had some funds sent from District 5, they insisted we pass it onto Finnick. Our gifts were some of the ones in the sky at the end."

"Who knew Finnick could use his brains like that…" Sefir mutters, tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth, "Looking at him, you think he's just a little puffball."

"Sefir!" Ria rolls her eyes, "Could you try and behave?"

"I am!" he looks affronted, "I haven't gone over to the weapons stand to try and dump that arrogant bastard Gloss on his far too shapely rear now have I?"

"Your dedication is remarkable…" Ria huffs and nudges him with the toe of her boot.

"If you don't mind me asking, what were your Games like?" I ask, moving to join them, and showing Sefir the right way to tie the knot, "Not the killing or anything but…"

"Well we're allies right?" Sefir winks at me, "Good to know what your allies can do. My Games were a fucking mess, to be frank. We were in a metal maze, a dark metal maze. With mutts popping out all over the fucking place." He shudders, "Like a nightmare."

"In my Games the Arena was an icy wasteland. Which turned out to be a lake…The Careers didn't figure that out and were a bit…flamboyant with their stepping. Worked for me. " Ria smiles, "We tend to try to outwit our opponents."

"She's a mean hand with tiny daggers," Sefir winks at me, "She likes to leave pointy things on my seats when she thinks I've been naughty."

"It's that or spanking him," Ria smacks Sefir over the head with her rope, "And he'd enjoy that."

Sefir smirks.

I snicker quietly and they both grin at me, "Anyway, you can count on us," Ria reassures me, "We're got your back milady."

"Just say the word," Sefir finally manages to finish his trap and lifts his hands triumphantly, "Aw yes!"

Five seconds later it collapses.


Cato snags me at lunch and sits me down beside him to introduce me to the two District 1 Victors. Cashmere and Gloss are brother and sister, and both very beautiful, although Cashmere reminds me forcibly of Glimmer. They are very aloof, pale green and blue eyes watching me intently as we eat.

"You are smaller than I thought," Cashmere says smoothly, pale blond hair tumbling slightly as she tilts her head to the side. She's lovely enough to break the heart of any man she set her eyes on, but right now, she's just eyeing me calculatingly, "Don't you think Gloss?"

"She is small," he agrees, but then he smiles slightly, "Doesn't mean she can't handle herself though."

Cato smiles proudly and swallows his mouthful, "You two in then?"

"We're in," Cashmere nods, and turns that pale green gaze back onto me, "As long as Sky lives, we'll play along. We're not happy about working with…other elements." She glances over towards Katniss, who is eating her lunch with some of the older Tributes, "We follow you Cato, you and Sky."

"You were talking to 5 earlier," Gloss nods towards Ria and Sefir, who are sitting with the Victors from District 10, "What did they have to say for themselves?"

"They're in," I reply, and then add, a little cheekily, "Sefir wanted to put you on your ass in combat training though."

"Did he now?" Gloss' blue eyes brighten eagerly, and I bite down a smile. Careers, they live for challenges, "Well I'll have to make time for that won't I?"

Cashmere rolls her lovely eyes and arches an eyebrow at me, "Men. Always competing over who's the bigger cock."

"Like you don't live for the challenge sister," Gloss smirks at her and then goes back to eyeing Sefir thoughtfully, "I could handle him."

"Tch," Cashmere tosses her head, "You are ridiculous, brother. I'm going to go play with Enobaria."

"Yeah you're on your own," Gloss shakes his head at me, "That woman scares me."

"She scares anyone with sense," Cato snorts.

Gloss nods solemnly and Cashmere gets up from the table, almost lightly dancing her way over to Enobaria, who is sitting with Finnick and Johanna.

"Enobaria and Johanna?" Gloss peers around me to eyeball the table, "I'm amazed that Odair's still alive, and that that table is still in one piece."

"They're having a competition," Cato shoves the last of his meal in his mouth, "Insulting one another."

Gloss shakes his head, "And on that note, I'm going to go kick 5's ass. Excuse me milady, Cato."

We watch him stride over Sefir, who smirks delightedly, leaning back in his seat.

"You're a terrible woman." Cato informs me.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I reply, grinning slightly, "I just made two people very happy."

In the afternoon we're treated to a display of Katniss shooting her bow, nailing the target with precision.

I glance around and bite down my amusement at the way Ria's and Cashmere's eyebrows almost disappear into their hair. Gloss and Sefir are too busy elbowing each other to really pay attention.

Katniss looses another arrow into the target and Finnick sighs enviously, "I want to be her when I grow up…"

"I can arrange that," Enobaria murmurs in his ear, "I'll just bite your balls off and set you on fire, how's that?"

Both Cato and Finnick edge away from her.

"Woman you're a worry." Finnick mutters back, and Enobaria winks at me before striding over to Johanna, poking her into showing us her skills with axes.

After Katniss' demonstration I meet some more Victors.

Fells is the male Tribute for District 9 and Enrid is the male from 10. The two of them seemed to have formed some kind of immediate rivalry which has quickly devolved into bickering, while their female partners watch with some amusement.

I spend some of the afternoon with them at the combat stations, and they show me what they can do.

Enrid and his partner, Rilka are mean hands with bullwhips, which Enrid demonstrates by whipping one out to curl around Fells' ankle, yanking him off his feet. Fells then takes revenge by smacking Enrid over the head with the blunt end of his bladed staff, smirking the entire time.

Rilka and Fells' District partner, Sigrin are more even tempered. Rilka is sweet, and tells me about her Games, which seemed to involve a lot of blood and spears. Hearing someone so small and fragile, with a happy smile on her face, tell you about something like that…is slightly disturbing.

Sigrin is bubbly and delights in telling me all about how to farm sheep. She doesn't tell me at all about her Games. And I don't ask. The shadow across her eyes when it's even slightly referenced is enough to make me not want to know.

At the end of the first day, I have talked to, and confirmed the allegiances of about half of the Tributes.

So tired am I, that I almost fall asleep in my desert, and I don't argue when Finnick carries me to bed.

For the second night in a row I wake up in the middle of the night with Cato missing from the bed beside me.

This time however I can hear him making his way out of the apartment, softly murmuring to Finnick and Mags, who join him, as I follow, curious. They get into the lift and I watch the numbers rise, from my hiding place near the dining table.

All the way up to 12.

The roof. It has to be where they are headed.

I race back to my bedroom and tug on a black dressing-gown with slippers, before hopping my way, still yanking one on, to the lift.

The door to the roof is ajar and I take my time in padding up to it, peeking out.

The Victors are gathered, all of them.

All of them except for Katniss. And me.

I drop down and crawl along behind the small dividing wall between the tiles and the garden and crouch, listening.

"…there is a chance it won't work."

"A good chance," District 3's Victor, Beetee, rumbles quietly, "It's far too chancy. Technology needs certainty, not…guesswork."

"Which is why we have a backup plan," Haymitch growls, and I blink down at the tiles under my hands, "Which will probably end up being THE plan."

"What about Katniss, and Sky?" Enobaria asks coolly, "I note that neither of them are here…"

"They can't know." Finnick says seriously and I scowl at him through the wall, "Sky's survival hinges on believing, and Katniss…doesn't know a damn thing yet. We'll tell her on the way out."

"We'll be provided what we need. But we're going to have to play this right. Johanna will handle Katniss. Peeta, Finnick and Cato…will be the three to guide Sky. She'll need it."

"Do we have an extraction planned for her?" Cato's voice is anxious, "In her condition…"

"She'll be fine," Haymitch's voice is gruff, "Dammit it all if I don't like the idea of a pregnant girl in the Games."

"None of us like it," Finnick retorts crossly, "But Sky didn't know, I didn't know…until she fainted."

"And by then the damage was done," Mags sighs, "I should have gotten in first."

"Mad, elderly or pregnant." Cashmere mutters, "District 4 didn't have much choice."

"Either way," Haymitch makes them all focus once more, "This is going to be either a great victory or a fuck up of mythical proportions."

Slowly I crawl back to the stairs and hurry back down, hopping into the lift and taking it back down to my floor. As I get out I hit the button for 12 again. No one will know I was there.

What are they planning?

Once again I'm filled with concern and anger that they are keeping something from me.

How can I trust them, Finnick, Peeta, Cato…if they are keeping something that big from me?

Chapter Text

It's one thing knowing that people have a reason to keep something from you, one thing knowing that these are people you love and trust, and you would give your life for. But emotions are another matter altogether.

To say that I'm not happy with Cato, Peeta, Finnick and everyone else keeping secrets from me is putting it mildly.

Right now the only person who isn't lying to me is Katniss, and I can hardly moan to her about the unfairness of it all because she has absolutely no idea why there would be secrets to begin with.

The end result is me having a restless night, despite the warm security of Cato's arm curled around my waist, the large hand placed protectively over the faint burgeoning swell of my belly.

It also means that when we gather in the training room and are assigned the compulsory training exercise I'd been dreading, the agility obstacle course I'd so badly flubbed last year, I'm not very receptive to Cato and Peeta's protective hovering.

Their anxiety only serves to remind me just how poorly I did at this last year, and reminds me that for all their care and devotion now, they are keeping secrets.

Finnick is worried too, but he didn't see me go flying off the damn thing the year before like Cato and Peeta did, and their worried eyes keep tracking to my stomach, hidden under the loose fabric of my training shirt. Not that the baby bump is obvious…I'm sure the gamemakers would just think I was being over zealous in eating the rich Capitol food if they caught a glimpse of it.

Finally it's Enobaria who rescues me from Cato, rolling her eyes and snapping her fingers at him.

"Heel Puppy, your bitch doesn't need you panting and nosing at her crotch."

"She has such a way with words," Sefir mutters behind me, snickering softly. Ria, behind him, rolls her eyes and flicks his ear, causing the bigger man to swat at her irritably.

"Don't let her hear you snickering at her," the woman warned her partner lightly, "I will not be helping you if you pick a fight with Enobaria."

"Sky'll back me up, won't you Sky?" Sefir nudges me, "You and me…we could take her."

I just blink at him, "Are you nuts?"

"Nothing has been proven," Sefir grins down at me and then peers down the line at Cato who has moved meekly back into line before Enobaria, "He's not a puppy, he's a pussy."

"You really want to die, don't you?" Fells mutters from further back down the line, rolling his amber eyes.

"What did you call me?" Cato swings around and moves back up the line towards Sefir, who is pulling a face and folding his arms, "I could take you, right now."

"How about we all play nice," I speak up, stepping between the two men, "Sefir stop yanking Cato's tail. He doesn't like it."

"He really doesn't." Finnick contributes, shaking his head, "I'm the absolute expert on it, and can verify that."

"And Cato," I glare at my husband, ignoring Finnick, "Just get a hold of yourself. You know he's pushing your buttons, and you're being idiotic enough to fall for them. He's not that subtle."

"Probably can't even spell it," Is Gloss' dry contribution from the beginning of the line, just in front of Cashmere who is ignoring the ridiculousness, and talks quietly with Enobaria.

"I heard that you tosser." Sefir meanders away from Cato, taking the offered distraction to go poke and prod Gloss.

Cato lets him go, but his blue eyes stay on me, icy blue eyes that for the first time in far too long are shuttered and angry. Directed at me. I glare back, annoyed even more by his petulance and then turn away from him deliberately, stalking back to my place in the line.

I'm halted when his hand snaps out, grabbing my wrist, the grip a little too tight to be anything but confrontational, and Cato yanks me back into his personal space, looming over me, using that old trick of trying to intimidate with sheer bulk.

Last year I would have just let him, waited for him to realise that he's being a bit too tight. Not everyone has small, breakable wrists. This year though, I'm so not in the mood. And Deccia taught me to defend myself. Not to hurt, just to evade and escape.

I step to the side, body twisting so Cato's arm is awkwardly extended and then I wrench away, moving against the bend of his arm. No one can hold on when their body doesn't bend that way. Cato's nostrils flare and he steps forward again but I counteract the surge of anger and aggression with a kiss.

It's not a happy kiss, not soft or gentle, but chiding, fond, and exasperated, and after a moment Cato relaxes a little, enough to curl his arms around me, protectively, tucking me in against him.

Sometimes he just needs that primitive reminder that yes…I am his.

"That's one way to solve an argument," Fells mutters, "Maybe we should try that next time Enrid."

I hear Enrid scoff quietly and then growl back, "Unless you would have me rip out your tongue. I would advise against it."

Easing back from Cato I grin slightly at the bantering going on behind me, before I turn to go back to my place in the line. But I look around towards Enrid, Fells, Rilka and Sigrin. The two women are chatting together, deep in conversation, two dark heads bent together. But Enrid and Fells are standing, mirroring one another, arms folded, eyebrows arched and pulling faces. I think Fells is imitating Enrid, judging by the scowls the expressions are making.

Katniss is standing near the back of the line, her head bent towards gentle Seeder from District 11 and Cecelia from District 8. It's interesting that these are two of the women that have gravitated the most towards Katniss, but then, it's also not unexpected.

Seeder is warm, kind, motherly, and she'd reassured Katniss, who passed on the news, that Thresh and Rue's families were alive and well. It'd been a comfort, especially to Katniss, and made the recalcitrant young woman more open to friendship advances.

Cecelia too is warm and motherly. She's a mother of three children, but had walked up onto the stage during the Reaping with poise and restraint, smiling at the crowd. She has chestnut hair tied back in a loose bun and warm golden brown skin and hazel eyes and she seems almost to radiate comfort. It's strange to think of someone like her winning a Hunger Games, but somehow she did.

Her District partner, Woof, stands nearby, gazing off into the middle distance, seemingly unconcerned with everyone around him. Chaff, the other District 11 Victor has meandered down the line to tease Enrid and Fells, being as he cannot resist trouble. Johanna is with Finnick, Blight beside her, and I give them both a small smile.

"Into formation!" Atala's voice calls out eventually and everyone shifts back to their proper places in cue, "Lets begin."

Cashmere and Gloss perform like the young, athletic, Career Tributes they once were. Their Victories are not so long past, and both seem to have maintained a level of fitness. Both post reasonable times and hit counts.

Cato does similarly to how he did last year; he's built for strength, not speed and agility. He's fast for his size, I'll grant him that, but he's not as fast as Cashmere and Gloss.

Enobaria flows like water around the obstacles, but she refuses to move at a speed faster than a trot, and the feral grins she shoots at the trainers wielding the batons makes them hesitant about smacking her. So she doesn't get hit, but her time is slower.

After that it becomes a bit of fun, competition without being overly competitive.

Beetee and Wiress from 3 are older, and are hesitant on the course, but they complete it, to applause from all of us, to the bemusement of the Gamemakers.

Finnick shows off, and beats Cashmere and Gloss. He then showboats around on the last podium until Cashmere sneaks up behind him and tackles him onto the mats below. She gets up, still flawless and graceful, but Finnick grunts breathlessly about a sharp elbow in his tackle box.

Even Cato looks sympathetic.

Enobaria just salutes Cashmere with respect.

I take my time. They know I'm pregnant, and they know I sucked at this last year. I try to go as fast as possible. I get smacked a few times, but I get to the end relatively unharmed, and jump off the podium to show my empty hands to Cato.

No baton this year.

He grins and down the back of the line I can hear Katniss laughing.

I turn and grin at her before joining Finnick to watch the others.

In the end Finnick is the winner and receives a kiss on the cheek from Seeder as a prize, as we all applaud. 

I sneak a look at the Gamemakers, and smirk as I see their bemused expressions.

The rest of the day is spent training loosely.

Peeta paints with the two Victors from 6, a pair who are obviously morphling addicts. They are lost in their own little worlds, but they find some kind of comfort with the paints, and with Peeta, who seems to bond with them the most. They adore him, and follow him with their big, sunken eyes, rather like devoted puppies.

Sefir takes Katniss to the weapons station and teaches her about daggers, because "The bow is good and all, but you can't shoot someone fucking on top of you."

It's a pointed comment; and Katniss shivers at the same time I do, the reminder of the Feast, and Thresh killing Clove, permanently fresh in our minds. She accepts however, and the pair of them train, the strong man showing her how to use her smaller size to her advantage.

Seeder and Cecelia join her, and Woof and Chaff follow soon after. The six of them train together, the sound of laughter and good natured bickering filling the close combat stations.

I return to the edible and poisonous food station, and find myself trailed by Enrid and Fells. It turns out Fells is hopeless but Enrid is incredible at identification. The two of us help the blond haired man attain some kind of standard of knowledge, but the process is long, and the two of them continually argue about something or other.

Soon enough the day ends, and we return to our floors and our beds.

Exhausted, I fall asleep almost immediately, and I don't wake until morning.

"We are not performing animals," Finnick declaims, gesturing grandly with one hand.

Haymitch, unamused, just turns to eye me.

"Don't look at me," I retort back at him, rolling my eyes, "He was like this before I came onto the scene. There's only so much I can fix."

We're in the garden on top of the roof, and the morning training before assessments will start soon. All of the Victors and their 'mentors' are on the roof, including Katniss, who looks bemused to see us all conspiring as a unit.

Finnick sniffs, "Those of you who cannot understand greatness- oof!"

Johanna had brought a muffin up onto the roof to eat before training, and it was this that'd been pegged, accurately, at Finnick's head. Snickers rise up from all around and Johanna smirks, holding her hand out to Blight.

"Pay up." She grins as the man puts his own muffin in her hand, sighing sadly, "Next time, don't steal the last blueberry muffin, and we won't have this problem."

"As I was saying," Finnick shoots the two a look, which Johanna just returns impassively, "I personally absolutely refuse to be any more of an entertainment for their benefit than I absolutely have to."

"What are you saying?" Sefir asks, frowning slightly, "We're already going to play nice in the Arena, no bloodbath, no slaughtering of anyone…"

"We are?" Katniss sounds shocked, but pleased.

"And we've already decided to protect one another and watch each others backs." Ria continues in her soothing voice.

"We have?" the girl from 12 blinks at us all, "Why didn't someone tell me?"

"We're telling you now." Cato reminds her, grumpily, tugging me back against his chest protectively. I roll my eyes; he's still pissy at Katniss for the Games last year.

"What I mean is," Finnick flails his hands, obviously not used to being ignored; "We don't perform like good little Tributes for the Gamefakers down there."

"Not get assessed?" Rilka frowns slightly, "They'd take that as outright…"

"No, no…too literal my dear," Finnick looks out over our faces and grins, "We just…don't show any kind of Arena skills. Like Peeta for instance…you can paint right? And Fells, you can juggle."

Everyone looks at Fells, who shrugs sheepishly.

"Who cares what mark we get in the assessment?" Cashmere murmurs, warming to the idea, "Why give them something to use against us."

I raise my hand, "They usually provide weapons for the Arena based off assessments." I remind them, "We may not be going to hurt one another, but they will send things against us…"

That makes everyone quiet, and Finnick deflates slightly.

"Then we show them small things," Gloss says firmly, "We show them our preferred weapons…not how good we are as such, but that we're proficient."

This is met with murmurs of agreement, and then we all head downstairs.

"What did you do?!" Cato roars it at Peeta as I roll my eyes.

We're back on the roof, but this time it's just Cato, me, Finnick, Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch and Mags. It's evening, and the Training Scores have been posted. Cato received a 10 again, probably since they vividly remember how vicious he was in the Arena. They gave me a 4.

Peeta and Katniss received 12's.

The impossible scores of 12. Clearly the Capitol is furious with them, and this is supposed to make us, their competitors, turn on them.

What had they done? What could they have done to anger the Gamemakers so?

Katniss looks stubborn and mulish, but Peeta is calm, meeting Cato's icy eyes straight on. He knows Cato now, and he knows Cato is just worried about him.

"I painted…." Peeta says simply, "I painted two scenes from the Hunger Games last year."

I stare at him, surprised, and Cato blinks.

"What scenes?" I ask quietly, my stomach clenching.

"Rue…covered in flowers." He replies and my eyebrows shoot up. It'd been removed from the recap, but Finnick had told me about it, "And…" he hesitates and then continues quietly, "And the final moments at the cornucopia. The parachutes, and you…and Cato."

Me crouched over him, shielding him with my own body. The parachutes in the air, Panem's declaration that they wanted us to survive.

Oh Peeta.

"And you Katniss?" Finnick turns to her and she shrugs uncomfortably.

"I hung a dummy," she nudges him, "Used the knot you showed me. I hung a dummy…and I painted…Seneca Crane, on its chest."

Silence, then.

"Holy shit." Cato mutters, rubbing his hand over his face.

"Well…" Finnick shakes his head, "Sourpuss I think you succeeded in pissing them off. You too SunBun."

Peeta just gives him a look.

"No shit," Haymitch mutters, and Mags just shakes her head.

"You're lucky we're not playing this like a normal Hunger Games," Cato growls at them both, "Or you'd have a target on your backs so big…"

"Cato," I rub my hand gently on his arm, "They know."

There is silence then, for long moments as we all look at one another, and then Katniss speaks.

"So…how was it decided to team up? All of us?"

"Well," Finnick purses his mouth, "We all know each other pretty well, us Victors. None of us were overly keen to try and kill one another. We figured…we'd stay loyal to one another…and let it be a Game against the Gamemakers."

Katniss smiles, one of those rare, but oddly captivating smiles, "I'm glad."

She's quiet after that as Cato and Finnick bicker over training scores. Finnick got a 10 too, and is flaunting it. We all walk out of the garden, ready for bed, and interview preparations the next day, but Katniss gently catches my arm.

"Sky," she murmurs, as Cato pauses, looking back towards us. I wave him on and turn back to her, "Could I have a quick word?"

"Sure," We walk back under the canopy and then stand there, looking at one another, the windchimes tinkling around us, "What's on your mind?"

"The Games," Katniss rubs her face, "Even though we're…going to work together, in the end only one person is going to survive."

Not if the Rebellion has its way, I think, but keep my face neutral, "Who knows what will happen…"

"It's not going to be me," Katniss says, her voice completely calm as she states it, "The Capitol won't allow it…and I don't deserve it. Not over you…not over Peeta."

There is something raw about the way she says his name, a longing, but also so much fondness, and exasperation. He confused her back when we were Tributes, and now…it seems she still doesn't understand what her feelings for him are.

"Katniss…" I begin, but she holds up a hand, stopping me.

"I want you to promise me, that if it came down to it, if you could save Peeta, or you could save me…I want you to promise it would be Peeta. I know you love him…" her grey eyes bore into mine, "But you try to save everyone. I want you to make sure he stays alive. For me."

I shake my head but she touches my arm gently.

"Sky," she says quietly, "You…you and Peeta…you're too good for the Games. There's something about you…about both of you. The rest of us…we've killed, and we'd kill again if it meant our survival. But you… you two, out of everyone, deserve to live."

I swallow, but then slowly I nod, "I promise you. I'll protect Peeta."

"With your life." Katniss meets my eyes again.

I nod.

"With my life."

Chapter Text

Mags gives us the day off the next day, pronouncing that Finnick and I are both too charming for our own good, and we'll discuss Interview strategy over dinner.

It seems to be the common thing for all the Victor Tributes, all of us have been through this before, we know what angles to play up, what to say, how to say it. Especially the mentors. They've been training Tributes for years; they know the process better than anyone. I don't think anyone has been rigorously drilled in Interview prep this year.

Probably a good thing.

Peeta and Katniss claim the rooftop garden to have some alone time, which everyone gives them. Everyone likes Peeta, he's a soothing, calming presence, and everyone hopes that he will get exactly what he wants in the end; the love of the girl he's longed for, for years. They may not all like Katniss, but they accept that Peeta loves her, and so they hope for his success, if only because it will make him happy.

Cato decides we need some couple time as well, only his solution is to not allow me out of bed that morning.

I almost reach the door once, but make the rookie error of pulling on Cato's shirt to cover myself. The next thing I hear is a low growl and then my husband bounds out of bed and lifts me bodily back up and into the warm nest he's created in the blankets. I don't leave the bed for another few hours after that, as Cato expresses his possessive pleasure at seeing me wearing his clothing.

The shirt gets discarded on the floor again.

It's not all carnal; there is a lot of kissing, neck biting and the like, but he also likes to nuzzle the still only faintly curved shape of my belly where our baby is growing, he likes to hold me, to stroke his hands over my skin, and to mouth gently at the nape of my neck. Physical contact…that's how Cato truly communicates.

So it's a long while before I emerge, once again wearing Cato's long suffering shirt, and head into the living and dining area to grab something to eat for both of us.

What I don't expect to see are all of the Victors sans Cato, Peeta and Katniss, sitting either sprawled on our couches or on the rugs of the living area, the television on.

For a moment I am frozen, rather like a dear caught in the headlights, and then Johanna starts laughing.

"Looking mighty fine there Sky," Fells calls jauntily as I hurry over to the table, filling two plates with food.

"Smart girl, keeping her energy up," Haymitch smirks, "Energy in, energy out."

"Oh go boil your head in a bucket." I snap at him and Sefir laughs.

"She is so one of yours Finnick!" He chortles, "Sassy little minx!"

"That's my Sky," Finnick says proudly and then coughs softly, "Uh Sky love, I know you're still technically in the honeymoon phase but do you really have to fanny about in your neanderthal's discarded clothing? It's traumatic."

"I'm fine with it," Sefir lounged back in his seat, "She's got nice legs…OOF."

Gloss elbows him in the stomach, rolling his eyes.

"You're a barbarian."

"And you're going to pay for that comment Sef," Ria nods towards the hallway where Cato is standing, arms folded broodingly, glaring at the large dark haired man from 5.

The intimidation factor is slightly lessened by the fact he's stark naked though.

Johanna wolf whistles wickedly, and Finnick buries his head under the cushions while Ria, Sigrin and Rilka all grin and shamelessly oogle.

"Fucking hell 2." Sefir arches an eyebrow at Cato, "You're a shameless hussy aren't you? Put some pants on for goodness sake. Gloss is about to drool."

"You're an asshole." The blond from 1 rolls his eyes, "Cashmere stop oogling his booty."

"It's a nice booty. You don't mind do you Sky?"

"Yes! Actually I do mind!" I march over to my husband and shove a spare dinner plate into his hand. The Ass, of course just arches an eyebrow at the dish and doesn't cover his privates with it, like I clearly intended, "Cato!"

"What?" He shrugs, "Odair's seen it before."


"Not on purpose!" Finnick wails from under the pillows, while Johanna snickers at him, "It was an accident and I bleached it from my memory! It was traumatic."

"Admit it Odair, you loved it." Sefir makes a growling expression and then oofs again as both Gloss and Finnick smack him in the face with pillows.

"Alright, you…back in the room." I shove at Cato's shoulder and he gives me an amused look, "Cato!"

"Yes little fish?"

I take a deep breath, and let it out slowly before turning away from him. "Well apparently we're having Naked night…"

"Wait…what?" Cato's voice is sharp behind me as I start undoing the buttons on the shirt. At once Sefir wolf-whistles, as does Johanna, and Sigrin arches her eyebrow interestedly. Chaff clinks his glass against Haymitch's and Cecelia and Seeder just look amused.

I get down to the last button before Cato snaps and I find my feet lifting off the floor. Laughter follows us down the hallway as I let my husband carry me away. I look over his shoulder and all the women on the couch give me enthusiastic thumbs up. And Sefir too of course.

I just laugh and bite Cato's neck.

He growls and I hear laughter from the living room before the door slams shut again.

A while later Cato and I rejoin the party in the living room, dressed this time and are greeted by a chorus of cheers and whistles. Peeta and Katniss have joined us by now, with Katniss sitting by Haymitch, on the far side from Chaff and talking quietly to Seeder and Cecelia with Wiress sitting on the floor in front of them, humming softly as Cecelia gently braids her soft, fine white hair.

Peeta is beside Finnick and Sefir, who has a companionable arm slung over the young man's shoulder. Gloss is on Sefir's far side, rolling his eyes, and Cashmere is sprawled on the rug, her head in Enobaria's lap. Enobaria leans up against Enrid's knees and he is bickering with Fells again, across a long suffering Rilka's lap. Sigrin and Ria are resting back against them with one of the morphling addicts snuggled up against their knees. The other is curled up near Peeta. Woof is on the other side of Chaff and ignoring proceedings, but occasionally sipping the drinks that Haymitch and Chaff give him.

I walk over and curl up between Finnick and Peeta, and feel their arms curl around me absently, naturally. Cato drops onto the ground and leans back against Peeta's legs, smiling slightly as the younger man runs his fingers through his soft fair hair. Johanna shifts and drapes her feet onto his lap before looking up at Blight, who is giving her a shoulder massage, and smiling.

It's like a giant family, a collection of people from all walks of life, from totally different worlds, but all united here, united by a Capitol that wanted us divided.

This is what I want to protect, this feeling, these people, this future. And I store this feeling down as I cup my hand over my belly, smiling slightly as Finnick and Peeta's hands join mine, and Cato's hand curls gently around my ankle.

This is worth fighting for.

Felvia kicks Cato out of our bedroom for Interview beauty preparation, and she and her team set to work transforming me. I tune out their inane babble until Felvia finally lets me see the finished creation.

The dress is gorgeous, long but made of that floating material that has become a trademark of my outfits for Hunger Games. It's a pale cream colour, and washes around me like sea spray, soft and silky.

The bodice is encrusted with pearls, hundreds of pearls, and the necklace is a large pale pink pearl. The theme continues through my loose, curly hair, pearls dripping through the strands, like a vel.

The make up itself is light, fresh. I'm recognisably me, but my eyes are large in my face, bright and framed with dark eyelashes.

I glance at her and she smiles, tears in her own eyes.

"Pearls…?" I ask quietly.

"Tears of the ocean." Felvia responds, "Finnick suggested it, and I agree."

I'm dripping in the oceans tears, ready to play on the Capitol's expectations of a Hunger Games, on a tragedy. It's beautifully subtle, a way of expressing grief without alienating the people I'll need to keep me alive.

"Thank you…" I whisper.

The plan is to punch the Capitol in their feelings. As hard as possible. And all of us have our parts to play, our little ways of whipping up the crowd.

We sit there in the half circle on the stage and some may think us competitors, but really we are a united line, working as one.

Cashmere is first and she is flawlessly beautiful with that blond hair and sultry eyes, wearing a gown of pale gold that makes her look like a precious statue. She plays a beauty queen, hand on her heart as she gets the ball rolling about how she wept at the thought of the suffering the Capitol must feel at losing their Victors.

Gloss is next, tall and handsome, waving out over the crowd before thanking them for their kindness over the years to him and his sister. It's a beautiful touch, reminding everyone there that there is a chance it could be sister against brother, and the emotions ratchet up another notch.

Enobaria is fierce in a dark red and black, red tipped feathers prickling as she moves. She is stoic, saying that if this is the Capitol's desire, to see her fight once more, then she will. It's a great angle for a fierce warrior woman, while also tweaking at the guilt of the Capitol.

Then it is Cato's turn.

He stands and the crowd erupts into wild cheering. He doesn't wave, doesn't do anything other than look out at them, before descending the stairs, dressed in a suit of black with subtle shimmers of blue-green and red as the lights shift across his broad shoulders.

"Cato!" Caesar Flickerman shakes his hand and cocks his head to the side, "Well, how are you my fine fellow?"

"Honestly Caesar, I'm feeling shit." Cato's jaw is hard and ignores the gasps from the crowd, "I never expected to have to compete in another Hunger Games. And while I would have done that…for the glory of District 2 and the Capitol…I never expected to have to fight against my wife. The love of my life. We survived one Games with each other. I don't think it's going to happen again."

He looks up at me, and I look back, feeling my eyes well up slightly. The crowd moans with sadness.

"Yes I think all of us were shocked when both you and your lovely Sky volunteered. Why did you Volunteer if I may ask?"

"I knew Sky would." He looks up at me again, "She's my world. I had to protect her. How could I sit back and watch her fight for her life without me there to keep her safe? I had to."

"But now only one of you will win."

"Yes. Her." His voice is implacable and I shake my head firmly.

"I think she disagrees…" Caesar chuckles softly.

"She disagreed with Darrien last year too." Cato reminds him, and the pang of heartbreak across my face is one hundred percent genuine, "He swore to protect her with his life. He did. This year…it will be my vow."

It's beautifully orchestrated. The Capitol are weeping, and Cato remains stoic and like stone, unmovable, and yet…slightly vulnerable.

"We saw your combat skills last year," Caesar coughs slightly and I think even he is feeling the emotions in the air, "What can we expect this year."

"It's a new year Caesar," Cato looks up towards me, "There is more to fight for than ever before."

The buzzer sounds and the Capitol screams his name as he stands, looking out over them before climbing back up the stairs.

I stand, and he comes straight over to me, and kisses me softly, causing more wails to rise from the crowd.

Beetee takes to the stage and tamps down on the emotions by approaching the legality of the games, appealing to logic, an excellent change of pace and contrast.

Wiress doesn't say much, but the Capitol didn't expect much from her. She is surprisingly poingnant though, by pressing one frail hand to her heart and pointing up at us, before taking Caesar's hand and putting it over her heart too.

"Breaking." She says softly, "Breaking."

Then it's my turn.

I stand and Cato shifts in his seat, but next moment settles as Finnick gets to his feet, offering me his arm. It's an echo of Darrien last year, a deliberate reminder of heartbreak, a poignant symbolism. This year Cato is prepared to give his life for mine, and now it's Finnick's turn to pledge his love and support…and his life.

I let him walk me down and squeeze his hand before sitting down on the interview chair and smiling sadly at Caesar.

"Hello Caesar,"

"Sky." He kisses my cheek and sits back, "Now I understand that your name is no longer Schuyler Cavendish?"

"Nope." I smile, a sad but genuine smile and I hear sad sounds rise from the audience, "I'm now Schuyler DuGrey. Cato and I got married."

Caesar puts a hand over his heart, "We all saw your wedding my dear and it was one of the most beautiful things I've seen." That earns cheering, although it's muted, "How do you feel now that you have to compete against your husband? Now that he's swearing to die so you can be the sole Victor."

"It…" my throat closes and tears spring to my eyes unbidden, "It breaks my heart."

The audience sniffles with me and I turn away slightly to wipe away a tear.

"This must be…devastating for you." Caesar's voice is gentle.

"It is." I close my eyes, "It's bad enough that it's Cato…but…to be in a Hunger Games with him, AND Finnick, AND Peeta…it's like a nightmare."

"What are your relationships with Finnick and Peeta?" he asks and I smile sadly.

"They're family." My voice cracks and I hear weeping from the crowd, "My family. This will…destroy me. Losing them. I'm sure all of you understand." I look out at the audience and there are murmurs of yes, and movements like nodding, "You may be losing them too. I'm sure your hearts are breaking, like mine is."

The buzzer sounds and Finnick descends the stairs, but this time Peeta is with him, and it's Peeta who escorts me back up to my seat, kissing my cheek softly.

Finnick's turn.

"Finnick Odair, you are possibly one of the most beloved Victors of all time," Caesar smiles at him and Finnick flashes a charming grin at the audience causing some of them to faint, "What is your strategy going to be for the Games?"

"Well Caesar…" Finnick leans forward, "It's a bit of a craptastic situation all round because…if I do as I want, which is to protect my little sister Sky, then I will leave behind my one true love."

I restrain myself from rolling my eyes.

"Your one true love?" Caesar asks as the Capitol women twitter eagerly in the audience, "Can you tell us who she is?"

"I can do one better Caesar," and Finnick retrieves a long sheaf of paper and proceeds to read the most ridiculous love letter I've ever heard, declaiming it with yearning stares and emotion wobbles in his voice. By the end a large number of women have passed out and the rest are sobbing wretchedly.

I shake my head at him as he retakes his seat beside me, and he grins back.

Ria and Sefir continue the theme, with Sefir endearing himself to everyone with his blunt comments and Ria, with her soft intelligent words, causing the crowd to doubt in themselves.

The morphlings just break hearts by being so disconnected, so unsure of everything, and the way they look up at Peeta as though needing him as a talisman. Even I get emotional after that.

Johanna brings up the damaging point of a change in the rules, since when the rule was written, so long ago, they could not have imagined the love between the Capitol and its Victors. She does it well, blunt and honest and fearless and the Capitol sobs around her. Blight echoes her points, sounding wistful and sad.

Cecelia and Woof are sweet, resigned and poised and the audience is seething with emotions as Cecelia talks about her children, and how she fears she'll never see them again. And how she wishes they did not have to see their mother die before their eyes on a television screen.

Fells is charming and makes the audience laugh through their tears, and somehow that seems to hurt them even more. Sigrin states how much she wished there was more time so she could show the Capitol everything she wants to, to show them what they have meant to her.

Enrid is broody and stoic, almost choked up and his stilted words earn soft moans of anguish from the Capitol audience. Rilka cries unashamedly and people cry out about the Quell. Calling for changes.

Chaff and Seeder throw wood on the tinder, pointing their fingers at Snow while just looking like they are asking simple questions. They fan the flames and the cries become louder.

By the time Katniss takes the stage, the crowd has been frothed into a fury of passion and grief.

She stands to walk down the stairs and then I gasp as Cato stands, walking across to offer her his arm, head held proudly. Everyone knows the rivalry; that they dislike one another, and yet here he is, escorting down the woman who nearly killed him.

The woman in her would be wedding gown.

Katniss loops her arm with his, and together, regal, they descend.

I glance over at Peeta and his eyes meet mine. We both smile softly and then turn back as Cato gives Katniss a shallow bow, heading back up the stairs.

It's only the beginning of the finale however.

Katniss twirls, another echo to last year, and the dress goes up in flames, revealing her in a gown that resembles the Mockingjay. The symbol of the rebellion. It's beautiful and dangerous and tasteful and takes our breath away. Katniss is poised and beautiful, and holds her head up as she makes her way back up the stairs, Finnick standing to escort her.

Then it's Peeta's turn.

And what an end it is.

First he lays out the bombshell that he and Katniss are unofficially married, deeply in love. The crowd wails with agony but he's not yet done.

"This is especially painful for me." Peeta says to Caesar, before taking a breath, "Because it's the love of my life….or my sister. Sky." And he looks up at me.

"And she is pregnant."

The entire gathering explodes into sound, the flames of anger and pain fanning out over everything, and we stand, the Victors, united.

Katniss and Peeta hold hands, and it spreads down the line until all of us stand, linked and the Capitol seethes before us.

Blow 1 for the rebellion.

We all head up to the garden afterwards, all in soft casual clothes, our false finery gone.

It's here that I reveal the warnings from Plutarch Heavensbee, although not the source. I tell them that I think the poem mentioned is Fire and Ice.

"Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice." Johanna murmurs.

"From what I've tasted of desire, I hold with those who favour fire." Peeta reads, a small frown on his face.

"But if I had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate to say that for destruction ice is also great." Cato rumbles

"And would suffice." Finnick finishes, pursing his lips.

"Sounds nasty," is Sefir's contribution, "So…end of the world, fire….ice. Should be fun!"

"You're a worry," Gloss muttered at him.

"We can handle it." Cashmere folds her arms, "Anything else?"

I shake my head, but grab Cato's arm so that we're the last two to leave the roof, descending in the elevator alone.

"Cato, there's something I have to tell you."

He looks at me, and instantly frowns, "What?"

"My eyes," I sigh, rubbing my forehead, "I can't see…properly."

"Oh that," Cato shrugs, "I knew about that already."


The elevator dings and I follow him out into the apartment.

"You what? You knew?" I scowl as he nods smugly, "How?"

"Deccia and Odair told me."

Finnick sticks his head out of his bedroom, "About bloody time Sky, seriously."

"Traitor!" I yell at him, and he grins before disappearing back into his room.

"What's the big deal?" Cato shrugs, "It's not something we can change, so…I'll just be more watchful for both of us. Besides…you hear better than me."

"You aren't…mad?" I ask quietly, looking at my feet.

I hear him sigh and then suddenly he's there, hand tilting my chin up.

"I wish you'd told me sooner. But…I knew you'd tell me."

"I forgot about it…" I admit quietly, "It's not usually something you notice unless it goes haywire."

Gently his lips meet mine, "See? Nothing to be mad about. You've just got to sit down, shut up and let me protect you."

"Yeah right," I scoff, and laugh as he lifts me in his arms, whisking me into our bedroom and closing the doors.

I feel very self conscious in my uniform as Felvia fusses around me, encouraging me to eat.

The pants are black, tight black and surprisingly warm as they sit against my skin. Felvia has already told me the material is designed to cool and also heat depending on the temperature.

I suppose it's fitting, considering the whole Fire and Ice motif.

The shirt I'm wearing is also black and v necked. It holds little protection from the elements, but there is a jacket too, which is made of a similar material to the pants, and is tailored and tight.

The boots are new and flexible, and I bounce up and down in them a few times.

"You need to eat," Felvia scolds, and practically stuffs a white roll into her mouth, "Swallow that or I'll smack you,"

I shoot her a disgruntled look but start chewing obediently.

She makes me eat another roll and a few sausages before the electronic voice speaks out over the room.

"1 minute to launch."

We turn to one another and then she kisses my cheek.

"Remember," she says softly, "It's always darkest right before the dawn."

It's cryptic and I open my mouth to ask her about it, but then I'm given the 30 second warning and start walking to the tube.

I step inside and take a deep breath.

The doors shick shut and all I can hear is the pounding of my heart.

Long moments pass and I don't move, and I glance back towards Felvia who shrugs, unsure. More seconds and then suddenly it moves, carrying me upwards, through rock until the tube opens into sunlight.

Bright light blinds me, and I blink rapidly, looking around, my mouth falling open in shock.

"Let the 75th Annual Hunger Games Begin!"

Chapter Text

For a moment I'm blinded by bright light, and I lift my hand up to shade my eyes.

Then it clears and I get my first look at our Arena.

"Holy shit," Sefir whispers from the pedestal to my left.

We are facing the Cornucopia, all of us spread out in a circle around it, evenly spaced, all wearing the same uniform. There is grass between us all and the cornucopia, flat ground covered in thick, lush grass. It's only a short run to it, and of course, as always the supplies are arrayed at the mouth.

But it's beyond the Cornucopia that catches my eye. Catches all our eyes.

We are on a green island, elevated on a hill with the flat plateau with the Cornucopia and our pedestals on it at the peak. Trees stretch down the steep slopes to chasms which split the Arena in half, but curve around the Island we are on. This is the centre of the Arena, and the rest of it…well…its fire and ice. In one half to the left of me are frozen wastes as far as the eye can see, rugged cliffs and spears of ice, with snowy air blowing all around. It looks freezing cold, and desolate.

Then I glance to the right.

Fire. Of course.

Lava gathers in pools, flowing like a mimicry of water over land that is cracked and burning. Ash floats through the air, covering everything it touches. Fire spews at random intervals bright against the dim air of the area. Surprisingly the air here on the island is clear, they must have something in place to filter the air between the three segments.

There are six bridges across the stomach dropping chasms, three to the ice side, three to the fire side. They are old and wooden, and don't look overly safe. Especially since if one breaks you plummet to almost certain death down into the darkness. There is no way to get back up…even if you survived the fall.

Everyone is gazing around, shocked at the intricacy of our surroundings, although, perhaps that is naïve of us. This is the Capitol, and this is a Quarter Quell.

Only the best for us.

It's then that I notice the countdown, bright numbers flashing, counting down from 20 seconds to 0.

15 seconds.

What if someone breaks ranks? Runs for the supplies at the Cornucopia? Attacks everyone with a weapon?

10 seconds.

What if the rebellion doesn't come for us?

5 seconds.

Where is Cato? He must be on the other side of the Cornucopia.

1 second

The horn blares out across the Arena and then fades away. But none of the Victors move, all eyeing one another, until Johanna hops off her pedestal and trots towards the Cornucopia.

"Fuck I hope they have some good grub this year. I'm hungry."

It's enough to break the tension, as Sefir, to my left, starts snickering, jumping down with a thump. Chaff is on my other side and he is rolling his eyes at the fierce little woman from 7.

"You're in the Hunger Games and you're thinking about food?" Enobaria's voice floats from Chaff's other side and then she too leaps down, following Johanna, "Damn I knew your priorities were flawless."

"Come on m'lady." Sefir moves in front of me and his large hands curl around my waist, lifting me down, "Let me be your Champion."

"More like chariot." Is Katniss' observation as she jumps lightly down as well, "You are a beast of burden after all."

"You hear that Sky?" Fells calls, "You're a burden."

"That is not what I said," Katniss scowls at him, "You Victors are impossible."

"Impossibly charming you mean." And then Finnick's there, sea green eyes gleaming. "Hello treasure. Ready for adventure?"

"You're all mad." I inform him as Gloss calls dibs on a box of protein bars, "Completely mad."

"And yet you love us," Sefir kisses the top of my head, putting me down, "Oops, hubby is glaring."

Next moment, sure enough, Cato is there, his hands running over my arms, a touch possessively, before tugging me into the curve of his arms, "He needs to stop manhandling you."

"You do it all the time." I remind him.

"That's me. It's different. You're mine."

"She's not a bone Cato." Katniss informs him, strolling past towards the cornucopia, "You can't bury her in your garden for safekeeping."

"Shut up Katniss." He shoots back, but there is a glimmer of amusement around his mouth. It seems the two of them have finally gotten past the last games, put it behind them.

There are tridents there against the metal of the horn and Finnick and I wander over to them.

"Awesome!" he carols, flourishing one of them, "Behold! I am a god of the oceans, bow before my might and- OOF!"

Cheers resound throughout the plateau as I smack the staff of my trident into his stomach.

"Stop being a drama queen."

Johanna grins as she steps over the sprawled body of the winded young man and wraps her arms around me.

"I've never felt closer to you, than I do at this moment."

"Traitors…." Finnick wheezes to his feet and then oofs again as Enrid passes him a crate, "Fuck that's heavy."

"Sort it out over here Finnick," Sweet Ria calms it all down, waving Finnick over, "I'll give you a hand."

The next few hours are a happy blur of sorting supplies into backpacks, just in case we have to leave the plateau. Chaff warns us quietly that the GameMakers will punish us soon for our refusal to play by the rules and that we should keep an eye open, and be ready. It's good advice, and everyone agrees, so supplies are sorted out between us.

Everyone has weapons, and even weapon polish. There is a crate of the stuff and Sefir makes sure every single person has enough of it. Everyone has ranged and close combat weaponry as well as survival gear and food.

Of course it's after nightfall when we settle down around a small fire to have dinner that everything goes to hell in a handbasket.

I'm snuggled up against Cato's chest, leaning back against him, his lips against my hair, when I first hear the soft hissing sounds. Instantly I'm alert, the rustling that followed the hiss sounded rather like something or many somethings moving.

Its dark now, the only light from our small fire, the stars visable and the distant light from the lava and pale glow from the ice, but the sounds are louder now. Everyone can hear them, and the conversation has quieted down, heads turning left and right cautiously, as fingers reach for weapons.

Mine just touch my trident when a huge reptilian monster leaps out of the forest, barrelling into our camp.

Chaos erupts as the creature showers dirt onto the fire, plunging everything into darkness. Screams, shouts, and the sounds of snarling and hissing fill the air as I scramble for my trident and my loaded backpack.

I snag the strap and grab my weapon, raising it just as another of the monsters lunges out of the shadows at me.

I shriek and lash out with my trident, and the monster roars at me. Talons slash down my arm but I shove forward, impaling the beast, and causing it to flop limply against the tines of my weapon.

Kicking it off I whirl around, but it's a maelstrom of movement, shadows, hissing, shouting, too much, too much. The plan was to run and then meet up again later if we had to be separated. So I turn and barrel down the hill, clutching my backpack and trident, racing through the trees.

I remember the drop and so when I break from the trees I keep running around the edge, hunting for a bridge. I find it, just as two other people burst from the foliage and almost crash into me. The three of us teeter on the narrow path and strong hands grab me, shoving me towards safety.

But we do not fall, and for a moment we pause, panting, staring at one another.

"You alright?" Blight asks, twitching nervously as another shout echoes from the forest behind us, "Unhurt?"

"Just some scratches. You?"

"Ol 'Blighty has some nasty gashes down his back," Gloss replies, and then nudges us towards the bridge, "Come on, come on, lets go…this island isn't safe."

"It's an Arena," Blight points out mildly, "Nowhere is safe."

"Well aren't you master positivity. Move it!"

Blight goes, and I follow, with Gloss bringing up the rear. We reach the other side and there it is, ice stretching for as far as the eye can see.

"I've never seen anything like this before…" I whisper as we walk, our feet crunching in the strange terrain.

"Me neither." Blight admits quietly, and Gloss hmphs softly behind us. We don't know how far is safe, or how far until danger again, but Gloss leads us into the frozen reaches, heading for an outcropping a good ways away.

By the time we reach it, the temperature has dropped a little more, and Blight is shivering. It seems that Gloss knew his stuff however, some reading or some kind of training perhaps. Either way, there is a shallow but sheltered cave there under the outcropping, and we settle in to make a camp.

"Fire?" I ask Gloss quietly, "I know it's risky but we need to be able to see Blight's back. And keep him warm. I think he's going into shock."

Reluctantly Gloss nods and I set about setting a small blaze, and tugging out the limited medical supplies. Carefully I tend to the nasty wounds, cleaning them with cold ice and bandaging him up before sending him to sleep in the back of the shelter.

"You should get some rest too." Gloss says gruffly, reaching out to gently stroke my hair, "We got a nasty shock, which isn't good in your condition."

"You sure?" I look longingly towards my bedroll, "I should tend to my arm first."

"Here…" he tugs me over and gently, but firmly begins tending to it, just like I'd tended to Blight. It's the exact steps and I quirk an eyebrow at him, "I learn better by observing and replicating." He admits gruffly, "Shut up."

"I didn't say anything." I smile softly, "You're good at it though."


We sit in silence until Gloss finishes bandaging my arm and then he pushes me towards my bed.

"Sleep. I'll keep an eye out."

"Thank you…" I murmur it and curl up, falling asleep almost the instant my head touches the waterproof material.

I don't sleep for long.

Before I know it the anthem of Panem is blaring from the heavens, startling both me and Blight from our slumbers. Blearily I move forward and peer out at the holograph on the sky above reading.

The Fallen.

"No cannons went off." Gloss reminds me, sitting by the entrance, his spear resting on his lap, the polish sitting beside him and gleaming on the metal of the weapon, "So no one…"

His voice fades away as Ria's sweet face appears in the sky, with District 5 under her name.

"No…" I whisper, but then her face melts from view to be replaced by absent minded Woof from District 8, then finally Chaff, District 11.

The anthem fades into silence and then and only then do three canons blast, firing a deliberate 1, 2, 3.

We sit in silence, staring at the sky for long moments and then Gloss ushers me back to my bedroll, tucking me in. "Go back to sleep Sky."

He crunches back outside but sleep does not return for a long time.

Ria is gone, sweet Ria, who teased Sefir, who smiled that soft smile, who looked after us all, who mothered us, she is gone. And poor old Woof, always a bit lost in his own head. And Chaff, who'd only had one hand, but fought harder than anyone I knew.

Haymitch must be devastated.

The thoughts haunt me, until finally I fall back to sleep.

The next morning dawns bright and cold, as the three of us sombrely eat a small breakfast.

"So," Blight looks at Gloss, and then at me, "What's the plan?"

"Go looking for the others," Gloss mutters, putting another piece of dried meat in his mouth and pulling a face, "Safety in numbers."

"So back to the cornucopia?" Blight glances towards the green island, shrouded as it is from view by icy fog, "They'll go there right?"

"No," Gloss shakes his head, "Too exposed. We proved that last night. Easy to get surrounded and then picked off."


"He's right," I say quietly and Blight subsides, "It's too exposed. We'll look around for the others nearby. If we don't find anyone until tomorrow then we'll make our way to the cornucopia."

It's a good compromise and both men nod, Blight getting to his feet to head back to the back of the cave, packing up his gear.

"I don't like him," Gloss mutters quietly, so I can only just hear him, "He's going to be a liability if it comes down to a fight. And the Hunger Games is all about fighting."

"So am I, by that logic," I remind him, standing, "Remember?"

"Yeah but…you think for yourself. He's a follower…how did he even win his games?"

"You'd have to ask him," I move away and Gloss kicks snow over the fire, dousing it.

Once we're packed up, we move out, trooping across the thick snowy ground, under the sun, white reflecting all around us.

It's tough going, and surprisingly I do better than the two men. I'm lighter than them, so my weight sends my sinking only a little way into the snow. And it's like walking in sand anyway, something I'm very familiar with.

Blight flails about and Gloss slogs through single-mindedly as I scout ahead, until all three of us suddenly hear something yowl.

A moment later, there is a blood curdling scream and suddenly the air is full of shouting, screaming and the loud yowling.

We break into a run, staggering through the snow as fast as we can. Gloss and Blight charge around an outcropping, while I clamber up it, and take in the sight below.

It's the two Victors from District 6, the morphling addicts, and Peeta.

There is blood across the snow, and the three Victors are backed up against a snowy wall by three, massive white cats, with black eyes full of malice. They hiss as Gloss charges with a roar, but they don't turn fast enough. He hits the one nearest to him and takes the beast to the ground, the two of them rolling in a flurry of white snapping teeth, fur, and blond hair, blood splattering across the snow, hissing hotly.

I scoop up a rock and lob it at one of the remaining ones, calling out, "Hey kitty, kitty, kitty."

The beast turns away from the three Victors and slinks towards me on my rock, growling low in its feline throat. I hiss back at it and instantly the creature's ears go back and it hisses again.

Blight is doing something with one of the remaining ones, and I see Gloss, emerge from under the limp body of his cat. He goes to help Blight, seeing that I am unharmed for the moment. The fourth cat faces off against Peeta and his companions, but I don't have time to watch.

With a yowl, my cat comes lunging up the rock, and its talons catch my ankle. I scream as I'm yanked down, my back smacking against the stones as I come tumbling.


Jaws close about my body and I scream again when suddenly Peeta is there, and Gloss too. Gloss roars and drives his spear into the beast's neck while Peeta stabs at it with his own shortsword.

The cat collapses, dying even as it holds me in its jaws, and the fourth cat howls in fury. Mates, I think blearily, and then suddenly the feline is there, rearing at Peeta, claws unsheathed.

It happens too fast to see, but one moment Peeta is there, about to get torn apart, and the next moment the two morphling addicts from District 6 are between him and the mutt, one attacking the cat with nails and teeth, the other, shielding him with their body.

It's a pathetic effort, and two slashes later they are laid out, bleeding. But it gives Gloss an opening.

He slays the final cat, as Blight staggers over, the morphlings having helped him with his own kill.

Silence falls.

"Sky," Gloss kneels beside me, tugging me out from the beast's maw, "You okay? How's the little one?" and his hand rubs my belly lightly, "All good in there?"

"Nothing that time and bandages won't fix." I wince as he picks me up, bringing me over to Peeta and the others, "Sunshine! Are you okay…?"

Peeta has some nasty scratches down his cheek and his side, but otherwise he seems fine, just shocked. But his companions, the pair from District 6…they are not.

Blood pumps onto the snow and we all look at one another helplessly. "They're dying," I say unhappily, "Gloss…?"

"Yeah," his voice is solemn, "They are."

"We should…" Peeta bites his lip, "We should do it. Make it quick."

"I don't think it's going to matter much in a few moments…" I say, emotions clawing up into my throat as I watch the man and woman slowly bleeding out in front of me, their haunted eyes fixed on Peeta lovingly, trustingly.

"No, he's right." Gloss retrieves his dagger from his bag, slick with polish and takes a deep breath, "I'll do it."

"I should…" Peeta whispers but subsides when Gloss shakes his head.

"It's better this way, just…comfort them."

He bends over the male, as Peeta strokes his head, murmuring soft words, soothing words. The man smiles innocently, trustingly up at Peeta, and I have to look away as Gloss' blade slides in.

He falls still and then a few moments later the woman does too, silent and pale as Gloss pulls the knife gently from her body.

"We should move on." Gloss scoops me up in his arms after shoving his blade back into his back, "We'll clean up away from here. Too much blood, alert more of those predators."

Slowly, we limp away from the bodies of the Snowcats and the two Victors from District 6.

"Peeta?" I ask, later as he's tending my wounds, "They never told me their names."

"Theo." He replies gruffly, "And Adria."

"They loved you." I touch his hair gently and he leans into the touch, "I'm sorry."

"Me too…" he huffs a shaky breath, "They just wanted to paint, Sky…"

"I know…I know…" I whisper back, and hold him as the tears come.

Chapter Text

We're all subdued come morning and a little more tired than we were yesterday morning. Watches have to be kept throughout the night and Gloss had to get some rest, having stayed up the entirety of the previous evening to give me and Blight a chance to sleep.

Peeta and I both look worse for wear in the bright light of morning reflecting damningly off the white snow, illuminating all wounds, and I pull a face at my reflection as I scoop up some water from a hole in the ice. There is a slash across my cheek, vivid and red, and it kind of makes me look a little wild, very different to the blandly pretty girl I'd been.

There are bruises too, scattered across my body and great puncture marks from the Snowcat's whopping great teeth. All in all it's been a rough initial two days into my second Hunger Games.

The Fallen, shown in the sky last night, had only revealed Theo and Adria, and their cannons had sounded after their pictures vanished. It meant I could let out a breath of relief.

Cato is still alive, somewhere out there, and so is Finnick.

We check on wounds, eat a quick breakfast and then we set off again, me scouting ahead with Peeta, Gloss following doggedly with Blight bringing up the rear.

It's an icy slog through winds that are beginning to stir up the snow around us, obscuring the way.

Visibility was poor, but not so bad as to find shelter and bunker in. We needed to find more people; we needed the safety that numbers could provide. The Snowcats had shown then, that pack…that more teeth…could be terribly effective.

So we press on doggedly, squinting through the icy storm swirling around us. It's hard to see more than a few metres each way really.

Which is how I manage to stumble into the centre of a herd of huge shaggy creatures, almost completely camouflaged until suddenly a pair of red eyes glow at me out of the mists.

"Oh shit…" I swear stumbling to a halt as one of the yeti-like creatures opens its mouth, letting out an eerie moaning sound that all the others take up. Suddenly there are lots of glowing red eyes and then they all begin to lumber forward, reaching for me.

I turn on my heel and run, staggering back around the outcrop and grabbing Peeta's wrist as he comes into view.

"Run!" I shout at him as the creatures behind us moan again, and the sounds of heavily lumbering feet pick up their pace.

The pair of us slide down an icy slope and I shove at Gloss while Peeta hauls at Blight, dragging them up from where they've been resting as we scouted.

"Run!" Peeta shouts and Blight looks back once, and yelps before taking off through the snow, the rest of us racing after him.

We overtake him easily as the herd of yetis charge behind us, their roars and heavy feet echoing around the frozen peaks around us.

"Come on, come on." I drag on Blight's hand as he falls further and further behind, "Blight! Come on!"

"I can't…" he is gasping for air and struggling through the snow when suddenly two men come charging out of the snowstorm, two men that I know all too well.

"Cato!" I almost sob his name, relief filling me, "Finnick!"

The two of them put themselves between the yetis and Blght, a pair of warrior gods, Finnick like Poseidon, with his bronze hair and trident, and Cato like Ares, two swords in his hands, tall and gorgeous and perfect…

Then Gloss is there, grabbing at me, and shoving me towards a rise, "Up, Up Sky!"

"Blight!" I shout, but he ignores me, dragging me up as Blight falls behind, "Gloss, we left Blight!"

"You first."

"NO!" I struggle but he's bigger, stronger and tougher and easily manhandles me up the rise, "Gloss I swear- Blight!"

Sounds of fighting reach my ears, the roars of the yetis and then Cato's battle cry, that primal sound that makes me tremble from the force of memories. Suddenly the ice seems to fade and all I can see are shadows, snarling wolves with eyes that are painfully familiar, and Cato fighting….fighting, fighting, until suddenly he goes down.

"CATO!" I scream it and even Gloss can't hold me as I throw myself towards the cry, sliding down the hill, half out of control as the warrior from 1 swears and follows me, still trying to do his duty to protect me.

Figures burst out of the mists, and there is Cato, dragging a wounded Blight, while Finnick guards with his Trident.

"They've retreated for now." Cato grunts, shoving Blight's heavy form at Gloss who takes the weight without complaint, "Don't know for how long. We've gotta get the fuck out of here."

"Cato…" the relief is staggering and I almost do slip over, making him growl and sling me up over his shoulder, "Cato! The baby!"

"Not now, love." He growls back, "Behave!" and he carries me up the hill as I hiss about him being a bloody cave man brute.

Peeta's waiting anxiously at the top and Cato puts me down as we all pick up the pace again, Cato, Gloss and Finnick sharing Blight's limp form between the three of them until finally Finnick calls a halt with a sharp voice.

"We have to stop! He's choking on something!"

Gloss lowers him quickly and we all crouch over the Victor from 7.

Now we have time to look, the problem, the injury, is painfully obvious. Especially when the jacket is removed.

"His chest is crushed," I say quietly, "A-A rib has punctured his lung…he's drowning in his own blood."

Out of the mists behind us we hear another hunting call from the yetis. It makes us all look at one another once more.

"How long?" Cato asks me, and then asks Finnick, "How long?"

Different questions, but the same answer.

"Not long," I say, looking at Blight, "But we can't wait."

"Not long," Finnick nods, looking back towards the way we'd come, "Not long enough."

"Very well."

It's over so fast that I almost don't see it. One moment Blight is struggling to breathe on the ground and the next moment Cato's dagger is embedded in his chest.

I gasp in shock, as Blight's stuttering breaths stop.

Carefully Cato withdraws the blade, his face impassive as he gets to his feet.

"Let's move."

I'm in shock, my hand still resting on Blight's shoulder; I don't think I can move. But next thing I know, Gloss is there, helping me up and pushing me on.

"Blight…" I whisper.

"He's gone." Gloss' face is hard, but something ticks in his jaw, "You can't help him now."

"Come on," Peeta grabs my hand in his and then we're running again, leaving the body of Blight behind us as we race onwards.

Cato killed him, like Gloss killed Adria and Theo, out of mercy, out of necessity. But it's hard, seeing someone you love so much, casually shove a blade into someone's chest.

Neither Gloss or Peeta comment on my tears, and by the time we all stumble to a halt they have frozen on my cheeks.

"What is it?" I ask, moving forward as everyone stands, unsure, "What…?"

"It's a bridge…" Cato nods into the mist and I step forward to make out the shape of a rickety wooden bridge, "We need to double back."

"We don't have the time for that," Gloss reminds him as the yetis moan in the near distance, "Those things are right on our tails."

"Slow and stupid they may be," Finnick observes, "But we can't take them on hand to hand, and none of us have the kind of ranged weaponry that could be effective right now."

"Fuck I never thought I'd be wishing for Bitch on fire to be here with us." Cato grumbles, looking back at the bridge, "That girl is bloody handy with her bow. But she isn't so…we have to chance it."

"One at a time," Gloss warns gruffly, "That wood looks suspect at best."

"I'll go first," Cato hefts his backpack, "I'm the heaviest…if it can take me, it can take you lot."

They nod, and Peeta grips Cato's arm gently before the Victor from 2 turns to me and gently brushes a kiss against my mouth, "I'll see you in a moment love."

And then he's gone, walking quickly but carefully across the wood. Some slats break, I hear them, and I hear the others gasp. I can't watch. But eventually I hear him call, "Gloss, you next."

Gloss goes, lighter and faster, only one or two slats break, tumbling down to crack the ice, and revealing rushing water below.

Peeta goes next at my urging, and he is light and quick, with no slats breaking at all. I hear the yetis roar nearby and shove at Finnick.

"Go, Go!"

"No!" He grabs at me, "You first, I'll hold them off."

Then suddenly I hear Peeta scream, and Gloss shouting, and I shove at Finnick again, "Go! They need you!"

He's torn, for another long, agonising moment and then he races across the bridge, disappearing into the mists and the dulled sounds of the combat happening across the way.

Slowly I count to five, giving him time to get back off the bridge at the other side and then I start to inch along the wood, just as the red glowing eyes start to appear in the mists.

"Quick, light….quick…"

I move fast and then I hear Peeta's anguished scream, "SKY!"

I turn, and freeze, there on the end of the bridge is a yeti, holding a giant rock.

"Oh…" Is all I have time to say before it hurtles through the air, punching into the bridge just short of me.

For a heartbeat everything is fine and then, I begin to fall.

My chest clenches with panic and my fingers reach, scrabbling for anything, anything!

I hang there, clutching at a loose slat of wood, dangling over a dizzyingly high drop. I hear Finnick yell my name, and then I hear Cato, a roar of fury and fear, just as my fingers slide off the end of the wood and I fall.

One heartbeat, two heartbeats, three heartbe-

The icy water hits me like a yeti's blow and I open my mouth to scream but all that rushes in is water, water that is so cold it almost burns and makes my chest seize with frozen panic.

I'm racing downstream, buffeted by water that is paralyisingly cold, until I twist and use my feet at the bottom to push up, trying to break the surface.

My fingers find ice and my mind shrieks with panic.


I'm swept on and then my back hits a rock and I scream, more water filling my mouth. But I've stopped and my fingers scrabble around, finding a fist sized rock.

I smash it upwards, once, twice…

My body is weakening, my chest aching… three times…four times…

The world…is fading…one…more…blow…

And my hand breaks through the ice.

I scrabble upwards, fuelled by sheer desperation and panic and rip chunks of ice away, lunging into the air and gasping, gasping and coughing as I drag myself…pathetically out of the water.

"F-fuck…" I shudder, frozen and shivering there on the icy water.

Slowly I drag myself up towards the banks, and look up at the embankment. It's high, really high…I have to climb…fuck I have to climb…shiveringly cold and with fingers numb from being soaked in an icy river.

How is this my life? I regret every descision ever, because it brought me here.

Now I sound like Finnick.

I shake myself out of my mental moment and grit my teeth, walking to the wall.

Time to climb.

And I do.

One step at a time, one handhold at a time, one breath at a time, I make it to the top.

And when I get there, I simply crawl my way to a nearby outcropping, find a small cave and collapse there.

My hands are shredded from ice and rock, they're bleeding sluggishly on the snow. My head throbs, my back is a mass of bruising I'm sure. But my first concern is the baby.

I hunch over, curling around it, as I did when I fell, and I whisper, needing to hear my voice, even as it shakes, and tears with roughness and cold.

"Stay with me…stay with me little one…don't leave me….don't leave me…"

I break the litany only to open my soaked on the outside, but blessedly dry on the inside, bag, tugging out some supplies for a fire. I don't know how I light it, desperation I suppose, but as soon as it's lit I curl up as close as I dare and keep muttering, keep whispering to my son, my daughter.

"Stay with me…please…stay with me….don't leave me…stay with me…"

This is how Katniss finds me…several hours later.

"Oh my god…" I hear her voice and look up blearily, meeting her shocked grey eyes, before my body….feeling safe…gives out…and I slide into unconsciousness.

Night appears to have just fallen, when I rejoin the land of the living. I'm tucked up in the little cave, the fire, larger now, nearby, with Katniss crouching beside me.

I'm wrapped up warmly in blankets, thick, heavy blankets and I blink at Katniss in drowsy surprise.

"You have good sponsors," is her reply to my look, tucking a small slip of paper into my hand, a note from Mags, "You okay Sky?"

"Feel rather like a clobbered fish." I mumble thickly, and blink at the note drowsily.

'You scared me so much little one, please look after yourself Love – M'

"Mags…" I mumble, and smile slightly, tugging the note to me, "She sent the blankets."

Katniss nods, "And some hot soup, I've been heating it and waiting for you to stir. Here…" and she edges forward, propping me up slightly so she can feed me soup.

Spoon feed me.

I chuckle wetly after I swallow.

It feels so good, the hot liquid warming me from inside, but Katniss frowns worriedly at me, "Sky?"

"Why are you helping me…?" I mumble, my head resting back against her shoulder, "Why…"

"Because…" Katniss swallows, and tucks a damp strand of my hair back behind my ear, "Because you would help me…because you…because you were right…sometimes it's not just getting to the end that matters...but how you get there. I…you're my friend…I'm not going to just let anyone else die."

I smile drowsily up at her and snuggle into her warmth, opening my mouth obiediently as she nudged another spoonful of soup into it.

"Thank you…" I mumble…slipping into unconsciousness again.

The next time I stir it's night, proper night and the anthem is playing.

Slowly I force my head to look up at the sky, feeling Katniss shift uncertainly beside me, against me. Together we stare at the heavens, waiting.

The Fallen, it reads and then Blight's face appears and my relief is intense. No Finnick, no Peeta, no Gloss. I can only imagine their relief is great as well. They will not have known until this moment if I were alive or dead.

I'm alive…and now they know.

But the relief is fleeting as a heartbeat or two later, his face melts away to be replaced by Cecelia's warm smile and dancing eyes. Katniss beside me gives a faint sob, a little hitch of breath and my arm curls around her. Comforting her.

But it's not over yet.

Cecelia's face melts away to reveal Rilka's delicate little face. My heart clenches as it did with Ria, that first night. Rilka…sweet, intense little Rilka. No…NO!

Then her face fades too and Seeder appears, tough and fierce and proud, with warmth in those golden brown eyes. But she is just as dead, just as gone, as Rilka, as Cecelia, as Blight, as Theo and Adria, as Woof and Chaff. As Ria.

The Fallen fades away…Peeta is still out there, still alive and well. Both of us are painfully grateful for that.

"I tried to protect them." Katniss whispers to me, "Cecelia…Seeder. I was with them. We were in the fire part of the Arena…there's a bridge not too far from here I crossed over on. But…Cecelia got swarmed by these…fire ants. Huge ants the size of a cat, or dog….they swarmed her and Seeder…Seeder and Rilka charged in after her…told me to run. I shot ant after ant, but when they cleared away…they were gone…Rilka killed them…and then killed herself."

Something niggles in my head but I push it away, too exhausted to worry.

"I'm sorry," I whisper back, "We lost Blight today…yetis…."

"Yetis?" Katniss stares at me, "Abominable snow men?"

I arch an eyebrow at her.

"They're ghost stories they tell in 12…" Katniss looks thoughtful, "Something the Capitol has breathed life into for our benefit."

"Peeta was pretty freaked…" I murmur, intrigued. Katniss' face shifts, hungry, eager, relieved.

"You saw him? Is he…how is he?"

"He's safe for now…as any of us can be I guess…he was with Finnick, Gloss and Cato when I left him."

"Those are pretty safe hands…" Katniss muses, pursing her lips, "Cato would never let something happen to him."

"Neither would Finnick," I murmur, "Katniss? We should get some rest."

"We should…" she tamps down the fire slightly and gets up to pack snow up against the entrance to the cave, blocking us in, "I heard one of the survival instructors blathering about this." She murmurs, seeing my surprise, "Should protect us somewhat."

She crawls back around and snuggles around me, and I tuck my blankets around her too.

Together we huddle, and slowly sleep claims us.

We get moving the next day but our pace is slow, trudging through snow and ice is tiring.

Eventually we find Katniss' bridge, a much sturdier one this time, that stretches from the frozen reaches to the island of the cornucopia.

As we cross, I hear something though, something that makes me pause, turning back. A cry of defiance, or battle, two voices raised, before suddenly they cut off.

I stand, feeling uneasy. No sound cuts off that quickly unless the person has been knocked unconscious…or killed.

It's then that I look down and then I frown, peering down again.

"Sky?" Katniss calls, and I wave her over.

"Do the water levels look different to you?" I ask carefully.

Katniss stares, "There didn't used to be any water in there at all, just…darkness."

"That's what I thought." I purse my lips and eye the water a few scant feet below me, "That's risen rather quickly don't you think?"

"Probably a trick of some kind." Katniss mutters, but I don't really listen to her.

I'm remembering Plutarch Heavensbee's words.

Fire and Ice.

End of the world.

Which legends had the world ending in fire and ice? There were a few, but the one that sticks in my head is the retelling of Ragnarok, the Norse legend for the end of days.

"And just before the battle was done…" I whisper, "The seas rose up and wiped the world clean, free of all evil, ambition and waste. The sea cleansed the mortal world, the realm of the gods and all the rest…only then…could they begin again."

Katniss stares at me.

"What was that?" she whispers uncertainly.

"The end of Ragnarok." I mutter, but at her confused look I just shake my head rather than explain.

This arena…was Ragnarok, the final epic battle of the gods, and of fire and ice. But it ended with everything being drowned in water.

And the water levels were rising. Perhaps…we have a time limit.

We continue up the hill however, panting heavily as we do, as the thing is bloody steep. And I have to put my thoughts away for now to concentrate on breathing and sweating. Strange after being so chilled for days.

"Balls…" Katniss flops down on a small flat part and fans herself, "That is…seriously…"

"I know hey?" I collapse too with a whine, rolling onto my front, just in time to see something glint in the shadows, "Katniss!"

It's like a moment from a Capitol entertainment program, all slow motion.

Katniss starts to turn, grabbing for her bow, but it's too late.

Johanna, her face dirty and wild, eyes fevered in her face, drops from a tree, and the shining, polished axe slides through the air, burying in Katniss' body.

The girl tenses for a moment as I scream, grabbing for my bag, for the daggers inside, but then Johanna crumples. A knife is buried in her body. I twist around and there, there is Sigrin, bleeding heavily, before she collapses, dropping her last knife.

For a moment I just sit there, gasping, unsure of how to move, before I scramble to my feet, racing over to Sigrin, fingers shaking as they try to find a pulse.


Johanna, then…nothing…no pulse…no breath…

Katniss…is still breathing, but it's faint.

"Katniss," I cup her face in my hands, "No…no…you can't…please…oh god…"

She blinks up at me, her eyes unfocusing slightly and I realise she can't see me…she doesn't know who I am. A small smile curls up her lips and she sighs softly.


Peeta's name ends with a sigh, a long drawn out sigh.

And when it ends…her chest doesn't rise once more.

I sit for long moments, staring down at the body of the girl who was supposed to be the inspiration for a rebellion, the girl who had been on fire, who was my friend, my enemy, my competition, my inspiration.



And that's when I feel it, a crack through my chest, a crushing heart rending pain and I scream, and scream as loud as I can.

It hurts, it's agony…this grief, this pain, this anger.

When is it going to stop? When will it stop?

"Darrien!" I scream at the heavens, tears pouring from my eyes, sobs wracking me, as I feel my mind fracturing, "DARRIEN PLEASE! HELP ME!"

The sky has no answers, Darrien is gone, a year gone, and Marvel too…Clove…Thresh...Zara…Teesa…Ria…Rilka…Blight…Katniss.

And I'm alone.

I scream again, needing to hear myself, to feel something that isn't the feeling of failure, of pain that I feel at Katniss' death. At losing her because I was not fast enough, strong enough.

She'd saved me. She saved me and I'd failed her!

Where was the rebellion! They'd promised!

The Victors were here because I'd suggested we stand as a unit, to have rebels in the Victor positions, so no innocent lives were lost.

But now…where was our rescue? Where were they!

My fault. My fault.

"Sky…" A voice drifts past my ear and I realise I'm curled on the ground, a ball of abject misery, "Oh fucking balls of fire…Sky…here...fuck…Fells, Enrid…I found her."

My fault.

Strong arms lift me and I sob into a warm chest and cling to the shirt.

It's not Cato…but…it's familiar.

"Sefir," Enrid sounds strained, unhappy, "This isn't right."

My fault.

"It's the way it has to be," Sefir's voice is hoarse too, tight with something, "It's the way it has to be…you'll see."

"I know…" Enrid's hand brushes over my hair, but it feels distant, "Still…"

My fault.


My fault.

"Oh sweet…" Fells' voice then and I'm lowered, tucked against something metal, cool, familiar as my eyes open.

The Cornucopia.

Three faces peer over me, all anxious, but I can't…I can't deal with them.

I feel my body shut down, curling up to protect itself from this newest heartwound, but even as I feel Fells, gently begin tending to my wounds, the sensation fades.

Disappearing into black unconsciousness that for once…is entirely, blessedly empty.



Chapter Text

A few hours later I come to, finding the anxious face of Fells in front of me, crouching as he drips water into my mouth.

"There you are," he says softly, amber eyes gleaming softly before he reaches back and produces a slightly wrinkled apple, "Eat up, it'll do you good to get some sugars in your system."

Obiediently I take a bite, slowly chewing on the sweet fruit, as I catalogue my state of being.

My face feels swollen and stiff, the way it only can after a long, hard, cry, my back feels much better, and as I shift slightly I can feel leaves bound around it, holding some kind of poultice against it. I blink at Fells questioningly and he smiles in understanding.

"Back home in 9 I work as a Healer." He explains, "There aren't many herbs to work with here, but enough to get by."

"Thank you," I mumble quietly and he just smiles again, pressing a light kiss to my forehead.

"You eat that and then you get some more rest okay? Sleep well." And he gets to his feet, before moving off to join Enrid and Sefir who are a ways off around a small campfire.

They've hidden it behind a rock, and they've wrapped me up in my blankets, keeping me warm, while also giving me privacy.

I'm thankful for it and close my eyes, dropping the core of the frut nearby, before curling up.

Sefir and Enrid are polishing their weapons, slicking the metal carefully until they are completely coated and glisten with it. Fells too takes up his equipment and polishes too, the three sitting in silence for a few moments.

It's as I lay there that the men's voices drift over.

"How is she?" Sefir asks gravely.

"Her wounds weren't serious, they'll heal." Fells' even voice replies.

"Injuries aren't always visible." Enrid's deep voice rumbles out, "She's taken more than physical blows."

"I can only heal what I can see." Fells points out dryly, "And until she tells us, we can't really help."

"These games are vicious," Sefir grunts, shaking his head, "Usually there are days between Tributes dying…and then usually only one…"

"It's an unpopular Games." Fells reminds him lightly, "The Capitol isn't happy, and so the GameMakers want it entertaining, but done as soon as can be."

"Still…five in one day." Enrid shakes his head, "Unusual."

"Wiress and Beetee, were they with anyone else?" Sefir asks, "We're together, Sky was with Katniss, Johanna was with Sigrin, and last I saw Finnick was dragging Cato off. That was just after the reptile attack though…could have changed."

Something about what he says strikes me as odd, but I can't quite grasp it. Johanna was with Sigrin? But…

"If they were alone, they had no chance." Enrid growls softly, "Beetee is clever, but…"

"Yeah," Fells sighs, "But sometimes even brains can't help if you're surrounded by creatures wanting your liver for its meal."

Wiress and Beetee must have been the two I heard earlier in the ice fields, but the men are still talking about them like they are alive. It makes me frown into the grass. They're dead, the men need to accept it, and move on.

"You know what it means though." Enrid's voice is quiet when he speaks again, "Tomorrow."

"Yeah," Fells responds, his voice unusually sombre, "I know…"

They don't expand and I frown again, even as drowsiness sweeps over me.

As I fall asleep I hear Fells speak once more.

"You'll look after her won't you?"

I hear Sefir reply something, and then…darkness claims me once more.

In the morning I stir slowly, blinking my gritty eyes over towards the camp across the plateau.

Fells and Enrid are gone, with all their gear too, weapons, bedrolls, packs…there is no sign that they were ever there. Sefir is sitting on the rock that sheltered their fire last night, and he's looking out over the fire, and the ice fields.

Slowly I get to my feet and move to join him.

"Sky," He smiles as I clamber up to sit beside him, "You slept well?"

I nod, and then ask quietly, "I missed the Fallen last night…whose cannons fired?"

The big man sighs, but he answers, honest as ever, "Beetee and Wiress from 3, Johanna from 7, Sigrin from 10 and…Katniss from 12."

I let out a shaky breath, "Who's left?"

"Gloss and Cashmere, Cato and Enobaria, Finnick and you, me, Fells and Enrid and Peeta."

"We've lost 14 Victors," I say flatly, thinking of the Rebellion and their supposed rescue, "Out of 24. In five days."

"Sky…" he says softly and then sighs, "We should move on, see if we can meet up with some of the others. Have you seen anyone other than…."

Katniss, her name hangs there, heavy, full of meaning.

"Yes, I was with Gloss, Cato, Peeta and Finnick. But…we got separated…or rather...I did."

Sefir whistles softly, "That's a fighting group. Wonder where Cashmere and Enobaria are…"

"Where are Fells and Enrid?" I ask quietly, glancing around, "The idea is safety in numbers, where have they gone?"

Sefir rolls his eyes, "They thought it would be best if they went into the ice portion, look for anyone remaining in that half of the arena, while you and I go into the fire part. Try and get everyone to regroup at the Cornucopia."

It makes some kind of sense. And things are getting desperate.

There are only ten of us left.

"We should go," I hop down from the rock, stroking a hand lightly over the small bump of my belly. It's comforting to feel the curve of it, knowing that inside me, grows a small life. One that I hope to bring into a world where there are no Hunger Games.

It steadies me as I go over to pack up my blankets, grounds me as I sling it all onto my back with only a faint wince.

Man…Fells knows his stuff.

Sefir joins me, and then we walk down the hill, away from the Ice and down towards the plains smoking with ash and fire.

"You know…water doesn't much get along with fire." I point out dryly, and Sefir laughs.

"I'll protect you," he reassures me dropping a kiss down on the top of my head, "Fucking fire won't know what hit it."

It makes me smile slightly until we reach the bridge across, and, remembering Katniss' and my discussion about Ragnarok, I glance down.

And gasp.

The water is now almost lapping at the bridge.

Oh yes, there is definitely a time limit to this Arena, until it's completely flooded….


The Gamemakers want someone who can swim to win…Finnick….or me. We are the two they would know with absolute certainty can outswim competition.

Are these Game odds, stacked so heavily in our favour?

"Sky?" Sefir has paused, looking back at me in concern, "You alright?"

"Yeah," I force my legs to move, and soon enough we pass through the invisible border into the fire lands. The air here is hot, dry heat scalding across my skin, and ash is heavy through the sky, drifting like the white snow flakes of District 12, and across the way in the frozen reaches.

The earth crunches under our boots as I let Sefir lead the way, following him even as I slip my hands into my pack, drawing out the long hunting daggers I'd chosen. I miss my Trident, but I'd lost it in the tumble from the bridge, swept away down the river, probably never to be seen again.

So I have to content myself with these and I slide them into my belt, my fingers fingering the smooth polish coating their blades.

Peeta'd polished them…after the snowcats. Needing something to do, he'd polished his own, and then mine.

Thinking of the boy from 12 makes me smile even as tears prickle. He'd have seen Katniss in the sky last night. He'd know she was gone. How he must be feeling…

I push it away, and press on, sticking close to Sefir as we start to climb a jagged ridge. It's hard work, even with my hands and body mostly healed, thanks to Katniss and Fells' care, but soon enough we reach the top.

We are on the edge of a deep, steep caldera, and Sefir sucks in a sharp breath as we suddenly spot two figures running through the ash and fire plumes.

I can barely see them, they are merely shadows and once again I curse my eyesight.

"Who is it?" I ask him urgently, "Sefir, I can't see, who is it!"

"Cashmere," He responds, his voice sounding choked, "And Peeta."

"Peeta!" I stare wildly into the ash again, and gasp as suddenly winged creatures dive out of the air, screeching loudly, "Holy fuck!"

"Dragons!" Sefir looks as freaked out as I do, "Quick, we have to move."

But the Dragons aren't after us, that much is obvious.

They don't even look at us.

Fire billows down across the plain and I see the two figures veer, dim shadows that it hurts to strain and see.

"We have to help them!" I shout to Sefir, and start slipping and sliding down the steep slope in the caldera, "Come on."

"Sky!" Sefir lunges after me, grabbing my jacket, "No! It's too dangerous!"

That does it.

I grab the front of his jacket in return and yank, sending him toppling off the ridge and down the slope, dragging me with him as we roll down the rocky incline. We hit the bottom with a loud thump and Sefir groans.

"You've been hanging out with District 2 women too long…"

"Come on," I growl at him, scrambling to my feet, "We have to help!"

He groans again but somehow straggles to his feet and sets off after me at a stumble. I meanwhile run as fast as I can, dodging around plumes of fire and ash as I go. Sefir quickly catches up to me, and then the pace picks up, with me trying to keep up with his longer legs. He's larger, but I'm faster, in the end.

We hurtle around a corner and dive for cover as fire suddenly blasts over our heads.

The dragon screeches above us, and once again we scramble to our feet and start running again.

"Peeta!" I scream, needing to hear him reply, "Peeta! Cashmere! Peeta!"

"Sky!" I hear her voice and veer sharply to the left, diving under a low rock shelf, followed closely by Sefir and another plume of flame from the dragons maw.

"Cash," Sefir bends over her, and then he swears viciously as he uncovers her wounds, deep, oozing slashes that bleed heavily. She's already pale, already fading, but her eyes, those beautiful green eyes, are still sharp.

"Sefir…you know…you have to…"

"Fuck…Cash…" he strokes her hair gently, "You couldn't just do it simply could you?"

She chuckles wetly and I clench my hands, the ragged nails cutting into my palms.

"Sef….give my brother a kiss from me? When you see him?"

He glares at her innocent expression, "Kiss him yourself. You'll see him soon."

She laughs again, and then shudders, pain spasming over her beautiful face, "Sef….make it quick…"

"Fuck…" he reaches for his shortsword and Cashmere's eyes slowly move to mine.

"Forgive me," she whispers, and her hand reaches out to me, "Sky….please…forgive me…"

I reach out too, but our fingertips barely brush before she goes limp, and I look up to see Sefir slowly sliding his knife out of her body, hunched over painfully as he does.

There is no pain for me, not yet. There is still one more thing waiting, and my heart is aching already.

'Forgive me.'

Why did she need forgiveness?

There is only one answer.

"Peeta!" I roll out from under the outcropping, not heeding Sefir's shouts for me to come back, and I take off, back the way we'd come, searching, searching.

'Forgive me.'

"Please…please…" I beg and then I hear it, a soft call of my name.


I leap up the hill, scrabbling slightly as I pull myself towards the small cave that I can suddenly see; now I look, now that I'm not running for my life.

"Peeta!" I reach it and roll inside fingers already reaching for him, finding his soft fair hair, "Oh thank god, Peeta, Peeta…"

"Sky…" his hand curls around mine, and he smiles.

But there is something wrong, and soon enough my eyes adjust enough that I can see it, the handle of the knife impaling him through his side.

"No…" the word leaves me, harsh, broken, furious, "NO!"

"Sky," his hands find mine as they reach for the blade, "Sky…I'm…its over."

"No," I shake my head, "No I can save you, please, I have to, I have to save you." I reach for the hilt again but gently he pushes them away.

"You know…removing it…will only make it happen…faster…"

Tears fill my eyes, I do know…god help me I do.

"You can't leave me," I whisper, pressing my forehead against his, "Please, Peeta, I love you so much, don't leave me."

"I love you too," he strokes my cheek, and swallows, "But Katniss…it's only right that I…follow…"

"It's my fault, I'm sorry," I break down then, crying, sobbing tears, "I couldn't save her, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it happened so fast."

"Sky…" he cups my cheek softly, thumb rubbing over my skin, "It's not your fault, never your fault."

"I should have protected her." I weep bitterly into his jacket, torn now, useless, "I should have protected you. I'm sorry…."

"Sky…" he makes me look at him, "Sky…this is how…it's meant to be."

I shake my head but he nods softly, his hand stroking my hair, "No."

"Yes," he says firmly, "Katniss needs me…where I'm going, she needs me."

"Please…" I beg, just once more, my voice soft, quiet, pleading, "Please."

"Goodbye for now…Sky….I'll see you…soon." He whispers and suddenly I feel his fingers at my waist, curling around one of the daggers there.

"No!" I cry out, reaching, but it's too late.

Peeta slides the blade, slick with the polish he'd so carefully rubbed into it, into his own chest.

And falls still, his eyes….closing.

"No…" I whimper the word and then I scream it, "No!"

"Sky!" Sefir's voice sounds panicked, "Sky! Where are you?"

The thought of leaving him, abandoning Peeta now, even though he's gone, beyond my help, hurts, but I cannot ignore the panic in his voice, Sefir needs me.

I tumble out of the cave, stumbling down the slope where Sefir races over to me, scooping me up in his arms as he goes, running.

The dragons screech from behind us, even as I hear the faint, familiar sounds of the Capitol hovercrafts, coming to take Cashmere and Peeta away.

'Forgive me'

"She killed him," I sob into Sefir's shirt, "He's gone…my Sunshine's gone…"

Sefir doesn't answer, just holds me tighter as he runs, until we leave the dragons…and their victims…far behind.

The anthem blasts across the Arena, and I lift my head, almost unwillingly, from its place on Sefir's chest. We're huddled in a shallow outcrop, sheltered from the falling ash, and from the sight of airborne predators.

I feel him too, look up at the sky above, and we both read the hated words, The Fallen, emblazoned across the sky.

Cashmere appears first, her haughty, beautiful face looking down at us from the sky, and I shiver slightly. She'd killed Peeta…but he'd been injured from the dragons…had she felt that she was making it quick? I would never know…but…Cashmere had been a friend to me, to Cato…I would assume the best.

Her face shimmers and reforms into the dancing amber eyes and wicked smile of Fells, and I feel my heart drop to my feet. No…not Fells. Not…

Enrid…his face is next, shimmering into view above us, those solemn blue eyes watchful, proud.

They were with us just last night, Fells bandaged my back, Enrid stroked my hair. Sefir is tense under my head, he too is unhappy to see the faces of his allies there in the sky. They'd gone to help…and now they are just….


Finally Enrid vanishes and Peeta's beloved face, that soft smile, the warm eyes, the face of my brother, my twin, the one person who understood me in a way that even Finnick, even Cato could not. He was a part of me, a part of my heart, and the void he's left is sucking at the rest of me, trying to drown me.

"Peeta," I mouth, and close my eyes.

The music fades away and I bury my face in Sefir's shoulder

"Attention Tributes, Attention." Claudius Templesmith's unctuous voice rolls out across the Arena, "There are only six of you left. The situation is dire. So it is our custom to throw a Feast, offering up something that each of you…desperately need. And if you are thinking of not participating well…that would be a grave…grave error. The feast begins midday tomorrow. May the odds, be ever in your favour…"

We lay there in silence and then slowly I shift to look up at Sefir, the strong jaw and thoughtful hazel eyes.

"We're going?"

He nods and I settle back down, satisfied enough.

Eventually…sleep claims me, but it is not the deep exhausted sleep of before.

When I stir, come morning I am shaking, and so bone achingly tired.

Sefir does not comment, and we pack up in silence.

"Holy shit," Is Sefir's comment as we walk out onto the small slope to take us out to the bridge across the ravine to the island of the Cornucopia.

Only there is no slope anymore, just…water.

The water levels have risen high enough that the bridge is no longer visable. Just…a stretch of water.

"We'll have to swim," I murmur, tugging off my boots, "Come on."

"Ah…well…about that…" Sefir mutters, eyeing the water anxiously even as he sits, copying me as I tuck the boots into my waterproof bag, "I can't actually swim."

I stare at him, "What?"

"I can't swim," he shrugs helplessly, "No reason to learn, we didn't have any great bodies of water around, and I was always a bit big for our metal bathtub.

I try to imagine not being able to swim, but can't. It wasn't just a District 5 thing though, Cato had been unable to swim, and even now wasn't exactly strong in the water.

I had no idea about Enobaria, or Gloss, and Finnick well…there is no reason to be concerned about Finnick.

"That's fine," I tell Sefir quietly, "Just…you'll have to trust me as I take you across. No struggling, you're a big unit. Could make things very difficult."

He nods, still looking unsure as he seals his bag like I do.

Slowly we move down into the water and I curl an arm about his weight, letting the buoyancy of the water lift him. Slowly I begin to swim, side stroking easily through water that seems not to be more lake than river or sea. There is little current, little tug and pull, which makes it easier to tug Sefir along behind me as I swim.

We reach the other side without any real incident and clamber out, tugging our boots back on as we start the steep, steep trek up towards the Cornucopia.

We hear voices as we come close, and then I hear Cato's distinctive tone, grumbling something, and I break into a shambling run, throwing myself up the last part of the steep slope and into his arms.

"Sky!" he lifts me, holding me close, and his mouth finds mine, crushing against it in a furious, desperate kiss, "Sky, you're okay…you're here."

"Cato," I breathe back, clinging to him, kissing his warm lips again and again until he puts me down and kneels, his hands gently cupping my belly.

"And the little one? Is…"

"He or she is fine," I smile, my mouth wobbling slightly, "Tough little thing…like its dad."

"Like her mother," Finnick says, strolling over, "Hello sweetcheeks. I maintain that you are having a daughter, simply because Cato would probably prefer a son."

A son, in the image of his father, I think, smiling warmly even as Cato shakes his head.

"I truly do not have a preference," he admits, "Son or daughter…they will be perfect to me."

"Sickening," Is Enobaria's dry response, walking over to us all and wringing water out of her dark hair, "Cato, get up and grow a pair."

"It's romantic," Gloss mutters at her, "Shut up. Harpy."

I smile at Gloss, and he gives me a tired smile in return, walking over to tug me into his arms, a gentle hug.

"Glossy," Sefir greets, hands jammed firmly in his pockets, "You look well."

Gloss just arches an eyebrow at him as I tighten my hold.

"Sef," he rolls his eyes, "I see the Arena hasn't improved your ugly mug."

"Rude!" Sefir exclaims, pointing at him, "Rude!"

"Children, play nice." Enobaria bares her sharp teeth at them, "Mother has a headache."

"You'd be a terrifying mother," Cato mutters and moves deliberately behind me.

"Coward," she sniffs at him and sweeps away towards the Cornucopia. I glance that way too and blink in surprise when I see that the great metal horn has been closed, "I suppose this will open and reveal the Feast bounty?"

"Bloody hope so," Sefir mutters, still watching Gloss, "Could use some cheer."

"Anyone know the time?" Cato folds his arms, "We could be here a while."

"It's close to midday," Finnick peers up at the sky, shading his eyes as he peers at the sun, "Should be any moment."

Slowly we all make our way over to the metal horn, me leaning against Cato's side as we do.

"Cato," I murmur, and he tilts his head, "I….Peeta…"

His face shutters but he nods, "I saw."

"I…I'm sorry."

"Why are you sorry?" he says it gently but with his voice a little rough from emotion, "It's not your fault Sky."


"No," he tightens his arm on my shoulders, "It's not."


But I'm interrupted by a low rumble as the metal opening to the Cornucopia slides open.

"Here we go," Gloss murmurs, walking forward.

There was silence for a moment and then suddenly the air is full of terrible shrieks and roars as monsters, mutations all, come tumbling out of the Cornucopia.

Hundreds of them.

The Feast is a trap.

I yank out my hunting knife just in time as a howling monkey leaps at me, sharp teeth gnashing at my face. I yell as I go down, and the world blurs as we struggle, the monkey slashing at me as I stab and stab at the monstrous creature above me. Blood sprays around us and my breath sobs as I stab, but I have to…I hate to, but have to, or I will die.

I don't want to die.

Finally the beast goes still and I struggle out from under the huge thing, and stand, looking around wildly. Gloss is being crushed by a huge serpent, which is hissing with glee, before Sefir comes charging in, stabbing its coil viciously with his blade.

It disentangles itself but before it can gather for another attack, Sefir beheads it.

Gloss crumples, bleeding everywhere, and suddenly Enobaria is there, wild and furious, as she shoves one of her wicked little knives into the dying man. He falls still but Sefir gives a roar of fury and with a slash of his shining dagger, he stabs her too.

"No!" I scream and race towards Sefir, but the man has been surrounded, a huge wolf bears down on him and Sefir's hazel green eyes meet mine.

"Run," he mouths, before stabbing himself.

"Sky!" Finnick is suddenly there, supporting a staggering, bleeding Cato. CATO, "Sky we have to run!"

And run we do, running like panicked, helpless little rabbits, hearts beating wildly as we careen down the hill, tumbling and cursing.

I hit the water with a running dive, and turn as Finnick shoves Cato in, before diving in himself. It's desperate, Cato a dead weight between us as we swim and swim towards the ice land, the howling of the animals behind us.

And all the time I can feel the water rising.

Finally, finally we reach shore, but I can see the dragons in the air, the other monsters hesitating at the waters edge.

"Finnick!" I pant, crawling to him, where he is crouched over Cato, "Finnick!"

"He's alive…" he reassures me, but he glances back towards the island and the assorted mutations beginning to swim. From the frozen reaches ahead of us I hear the moaning sound of the yetis, and the yowls of the snowcats.

The monsters are closing in.

We're surrounded.

"We have to get out of here," I struggle around, trying to lift Cato's waterlogged bulk, "Finnick, please…we have to get out of here."

"Sky," Finnick's voice is quiet, and calm, "its over."

I turn to look at him, incredulous and furious, "Its fucking well not!" I rage at him, "Get up! Get him up, we have to, we can!"

"Sky!" He snaps, grabbing my arms, "The Games are over…there can be only one Victor."

"No!" I scream it at him, "No!"

"Yes," Cato's voice comes from the ground, where he pushes himself up onto his elbows, "We knew…we knew…it would come to this. Odair and I…we knew we had to bring you here…so you…"

"Oh no, it's not going to be me," I shake my head, furious and hating them both as I pull out my last remaining hunting knife, pressing the polished tip to my neck, "I can't live…don't make me be the one to live…please…don't make me live alone…"

"Sky…" Finnick's eyes are fixed on the blade in my hands, "The baby…this way…you both will survive…you will live, Cato's son or daughter will live…"

It's a cruel argument to make, reminding me of the child growing within me, the baby made of Cato's and my love. Cato's son…or daughter.

The knife wavers, and lowers slightly and Finnick lashes out, breaking my wrist with a controlled snap, the knife flying out of reach.

I scream as Cato roars in fury, lunging at Finnick.


But it's too late.

Cato slumps back onto the snow, limp, lifeless, and Finnick crumples beside him, Cato's polished sword stabbed into his chest.

"Cato!" I scream it, a primal wail, of loss, of panic, of fury, "Finnick!"

He smiles at me, as I scramble over, and takes my unbroken hand in his.

"It is…as it was meant to be." He whispers, and then….



I stare at his limp form, at Cato's, and then suddenly trumpets are blasting in the sky, Claudius Templesmith's voice bellowing out across the damned landscape.

"I give you the Victor of the 75th Hunger Games! Schuyler DuGrey!"


I didn't get a chance to tell Cato how much I loved him. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye.

He's gone and I didn't get to say goodbye!


I can hear the hovercraft approaching, both of them, one for Finnick and Cato, one for me.


I run.

I race into the mists of the frozen wastes, seeing the red eyes of the yetis the black of the snowcats and I fling myself towards them with a battle scream of someone who wants it to be over, for it to end.

"What are you waiting for!" I scream at them, "Kill me! KILL ME!"

But the mutations do not attack and the Hovercraft scoops me up even as I rage and sob and scream at them in fury.

I howl as they press an injection into my neck, feeling the sedative washing through me, and then….

…it's over.

Chapter Text

"She's not said a word since she came round," I hear Felvia's worried voice from nearby, but I don't look around, "She just, lays there…"

"Let me have a go,"

The voice makes me blink in surprise, and stirs me a little from my malaise. It's familiar, it's trusted, and right now…it's hated…so hated.


I hear the door close behind him, and for a long moment I stay silent, still.


"Get out."

He let's out a little huff, but I know it is of relief, not true agitation. Footsteps sound on the polished hospital bed and then suddenly he's there, in my field of vision.

His grey eyes meet mine, steady, heavy.

"I'm not going anywhere sweetheart."

"Get. Out." I close my eyes, shutting him out the only way I can.

"Do you think Cato would be impressed right now?" he taunts, and I feel a shudder ripple along my body, "Would Finnick? His little fighting Sky…giving up."

"You know nothing." I spit at him, "What do you care anyway? It's all over."

I mean the Rebellion; he knows that's what I mean. But angry as I am, I don't blurt out the secret. This is the Capitol; there are eyes and ears almost everywhere. And it's more than my own life at stake. Hundreds of lives.

Bitter as I am…I cannot betray our cause. Cato's, Finnick's, Peeta's…all of the Victors…cause

Thinking of them is like shoving a burning brand into my chest, so I slide back into desensitised apathy. I can't think on them…not now…it's safer not to feel.

"It's not over," Haymitch's hand lightly smacks my cheek, "Stop that."

"It's over for me." I growl back, annoyed at him for not letting me just sink back into the fog that beckons invitingly.

It would be so easy just to break, to slide under the surface, to lose myself in my own mind. I've seen death…so many people die…people I love…I can't…I can't handle this…

"Do you really think Katniss would give up like this if it were her?" Haymitch barks, "Do you think Peeta would just crumble? What about Finnick? What about Cato?"

"Stop using them against me!" I shout at him, and my eyes open in time to see the victorious flash in those grey eyes, "They are dead." I grit out, and the pain of those words is almost overwhelming, "They orchestrated it so I would be the one to live. Live, knowing that everyone I loved died around me!"

"So you could live!" he yells back, "So stop being so damn selfish sweetheart, and don't throw their gift, their love, in the trash."

I seethe at him, furious that his words make sense, that he has the ability to make me feel like losing everyone was a gift. I already feel guilty enough…I lost them all….I failed them all.

"I didn't want to live without them." I cry to him, but this time it's not a shout of anger, defiance or otherwise. There's a quaver in it, fragility…pain, "They were my family…I didn't want to live without them Haymitch. It's my fault…my fault…"

Something flickers across his face then, before he moves forward and awkwardly hugs me about the head, letting me cry into his chest.

"I know…" he strokes my hair as I sob, and sob, "I know…just…Sky…you have to hold on okay? The world needs you. I need you. Mags needs you…Annie needs you."


Oh Annie, how she must be suffering the loss of Finnick. Does she know? She will when everyone is made to watch the recap.

When I'm made to watch the recap.

He seems to follow my thoughts and his hand tilts my chin up, grey eyes locking onto my own, "Your…your daughter…needs you."


I stare at him, eyes wide and his lips curl up in a small smile, nodding slightly.

"Daughter…" I whisper, my hand stroking my stomach, "A daughter?"

"They gave you a complete checkup when you were brought in," he smiles slightly, "Congratulations sweetheart. A healthy baby girl."

My hands cradle my belly and I smile at the thought of the tiny life growing inside me. Hearing that it's a little girl, a daughter, with Cato's fire and passion, it's a part of him that will always live on. And it's this part that I will protect with my life if needs be.

"Teesa," I murmur, looking up at him, "Teesa Clove DuGrey."

"To Teesa DuGrey." Haymitch slides a flask out of his pocket and toasts me with it, "May she have her namesake's brains, and not her fathers temper."

The style team are quiet as they get me ready for the stage, for the recap and the interviews afterwards. Felvia clearly has read them a stern act of not talking to me about the Games, and they are being cautious around me, restraining their enthusiasm.

Felvia of course, comes through once again, with an incredible dress.

It's black, but there are subtle tones of blue, red, green inside it as it ripples around my feet. And throughout are embroidered delicate pearls.

Tears of the ocean, I remember her telling me, and for a moment my lips curl up faintly.

I should be dripping in the things.

She ties my hair back, elegant but understated, and the make up too is simple.

It doesn't hide the dark circles under my eyes, or the paleness of my cheeks. And the dress curves over my abdomen, reminding everyone that I am not only a Hunger Games Victor…

I'm a Hunger Games Victor, twice over, who just lost her husband, and the father to be of her child in the Arena.

I look how I feel, drained, tired, but still holding myself tall, still.

This isn't a mask for the Capitol. If I were to wear a mask for their benefit it would be one of health, contentedness, the new mother expecting life rather than focusing on all she lost. No, Mags and Felvia are allowing me this.

To be as I am.

The disc raises me up onto the stage, and I greet the cries of the audience with icy stoicism.

I simply stand there, straight, still, wearing the black of my mourning, looking out at the blur of people, listening to their wails and cries.

Their fake grief didn't save my family.

I feel no warmth towards them now.

Slowly I walk to the front of the stage to join Caesar Flickerman, who looks like he's trying to be empathetic, while still keeping some kind of celebratory feel to the whole event.

"Sky," he greets me, kissing my hand warmly, "Welcome, welcome, please take a seat."

He sits me down as the crowd calms, and then turns to address me, his teeth flashing in the light.

"Now…Sky…how are you doing?"

"I'm alive," I say stiltedly, my throat threatening to close up once more, "For which I'm grateful, but I cannot say I am doing better than that."

He makes a low sympathetic sound as the crowd moans in sympathy. I don't look at them. I don't need their false sympathies.

"Now, we all know how hard it will be for you…and us all…to watch the recap of the Games Sky, but…are you ready?"

I have to be.

I simply nod, and the lights dim slightly as the screen shows the words.

The 75th Hunger Games.

President Snow's voice voiceovers the first part of the video, his voice is reading the announcement of the twist to the Quell, that the competitors would be Victors, while the footage shows small captures of each of the major Victors, of when they originally competed and in the parade.

Gloss, young, so young, and handsome, and then dressed in the opulence of his district, beside Cashmere, who is devastating in her beauty. She looks young in her Games too, running up a rocky slope, fiercely focused.

Then it's Enobaria, Beetee and Wiress, Sefir and Ria, Theo and Adria, Blight and Johanna, Woof and Cecelia, Fells and Rilka, Enrid and Sigrin, Chaff and then Seeder.

Then…then it's Finnick, beautiful, handsome, almost glowing in his youth and beauty, his bright smile cutting through the air. His clip shows him, just fourteen, making the net he used to trap Tributes. And then it's him in the Parade, waving at the crowd.

Katniss is next, with Peeta, tragic lovers, and their footage is together. Our games last time…our games this time.

Then…and only then.

Cato and I.

Seeing him sends a sharp pain stabbing through me, and my eyes automatically seek out Mags and Haymitch in the crowd.

But the footage is not of our games…but of our wedding. And I want to scream as I hear Cato's voice saying his vows.

"By the stone that strengthens us, the metal that protects us and the honour that guides us," Cato murmurs, blue eyes locked onto mine, "I swear to honour and keep you, Schuyler, from this day until my last day. I swear to protect and love you, from this breath until my last breath. And I swear to treasure and trust you, from this heartbeat, until my last heartbeat. I am yours."

How can they be so cruel?

The audience sniffs and a few sobs are heard, but I dig my nails into my palms, fighting it down.

But it gets worse.

The interviews.

"She's my world. I had to protect her. How could I sit back and watch her fight for her life without me there to keep her safe? I had to."

"But now only one of you will win."

"Yes. Her."

"I think she disagrees…"

"She disagreed with Darrien last year too. He swore to protect her with his life. He did. This year…it will be my vow."

Cato's words ring out, the finality of them, the truth of them heard now by all of us. Just as Darrien's were. How could I be worthy of such love, such sacrifice? Why did they do it? I wasn't worth it…not this…never this…

Finnick's sunny voice almost makes me crack, almost brings me to my knees.

"Well Caesar… It's a bit of a craptastic situation all round because…if I do as I want, which is to protect my little sister Sky, then I will leave behind my one true love."

It had been a joke at the time, me, so trusting in the rebellion, so strong in my belief of our playing the Capitol. So arrogant to think that this time…this time we would win. But now…now it just hurts.

"This is especially painful for me. Because it's the love of my life….or my sister. Sky. And she is pregnant."

Peeta, my sweet sunshine Peeta. For a moment my face crumples but I quickly smooth it out once more. This is not theirs, I will not let them see this…this grief…is mine.

Then I hear my own voice, and I look back to the screen to see my own face looking back at me.

"How do you feel now that you have to compete against your husband? Now that he's swearing to die so you can be the sole Victor."

"It…It breaks my heart."

"This must be…devastating for you."

"It is. It's bad enough that it's Cato…but…to be in a Hunger Games with him, AND Finnick, AND Peeta…it's like a nightmare."

"What are your relationships with Finnick and Peeta?"

"They're family. My family. This will…destroy me. Losing them. I'm sure all of you understand. You may be losing them too. I'm sure your hearts are breaking, like mine is."

The footage cuts to the Arena as my voice finishes speaking, and I curse the Capitol, curse them bitterly in my head.

It was supposed to be a lie, to stir the emotions of the Capitol.

It wasn't supposed to become truth.

Damn you, I wail at Cato, Finnick and Peeta, Damn you.

I watch, resolutely, and it's only because I'm staring so hard, that I see it…a brief flicker between scene changes. A blip…an editing blip.

Then I see the attack at the Cornucopia, I see what I had been too busy running to see before.

I see Ria, trapped inside the Cornucopia, Woof bleeding behind her, Chaff fighting with his one good hand. I see Chaff stab Woof, and then I see Ria and Chaff dive for one another, ending each others lives on their blades.

But the footage doesn't leave them.

It follows the bodies to the hovercraft, and then…then…a technician drips something into their wounds.

I frown, what is this?

Ria comes awake first, with a sharp gasp, echoed by all of us watching. She coughs and splutters as slowly Chaff and Woof come too as well.

What is happening!?

My eyes are wide with confusion, my mouth open as I watch the screen, as death after death is shown.

Theo and Adria, Blight, then the battle with Seeder, Rilka and Cecelia, with Katniss, helpless, trying to save them.

All are revived.

My breaths shorten, almost panting as death after death follows.

Beetee and Wiress, Johanna, Sigrin and Katniss.

They show me screaming, my grief and pain palpable, but then...then…Cashmere and Peeta….and then, only then is Katniss revived, with Peeta at her side, to explain, words we cannot hear, whispered in her ears.

The audience is screaming in confusion by this point, but I am frozen, frozen where I am.

I have to see.

But for the first time since I'd woken up in the hospital there is something burning inside me. Something other than grief.


When Gloss, Enobaria and Sefir are revived I begin to cry, ugly, wracking, sobs that make me shake with the force of them.

And finally…finally I see Cato and Finnick, their eyes opening in the hovercraft.

They are alive!

The world swims around me as chaos erupts, people shouting, standing, fingers and hands flailing and pointing.

I can't follow them, can't follow any of it until suddenly…silence falls.

"Dear citizens of the Capitol," Katniss' voice speaks from the screen, and there she is, standing proud, beautiful and alive, dressed like a mockingjay, like the symbol of the rebellion.

"My name is Katniss Everdeen, I am 18 years old, a resident of District 12, a Victor of the Hunger Games…and now…I give you this. A warning."

Her grey eyes pierce the screen, and I feel my heartbeat quicken. She is intoxicating; you cannot take your eyes away from her.

She is the voice of the rebellion.

"The life you know, as you know it, is over." She declares, her voice harder than stone, "The Hunger Games are over."

"You may ask who I am to tell you this. I am the Mockingjay. And I stand for all of us. We stand against you."

Gloss and Cashmere step forward, and I feel my face flush, and my head spin lightheadedly.

"District 1 stands."

"District 3 stands."

"District 5 stands."

"District 6….7….8….9…10…11…."

"District 12 stands." Peeta steps forward and I wobble, even sitting.

"District 4 stands." Finnick is there, defiant and enthusiastic as he bounds forward.

"District 2 stands." Cato, strong Cato with his flashing blue eyes and strong jaw, my husband…not taken from me…not yet, steps forward, with dark, passionate Enobaria at his side. She bares her teeth and laughs, and I feel my heart quicken.

Katniss turns back to the screen, to us, and her grey eyes are cold.

"But we are not alone."

The Camera pans out to reveal the might of District 13, soldiers, hovercrafts, weaponry, and personnel and the crowd in the Capitol goes wild, screaming with fear as I catch Haymitch's eye. He is smiling savagely and I realise.

He did this.

Somehow he hacked this feed, to bring us the message.

That is why he stayed.

"Surrender," Katniss' voice is like ice, "Surrender and we will not have another 'terrible war'." She mocks them and I smile slightly, "This is the Mockingjay. And we stand against you."

The screen goes dark and the hall explodes into chaos.

Colours seethe as people flail about, turning to one another and babbling in terror until President Snow takes to the stage, his face terrible in its fury.

"QUIET!" he roars, and instantly they calm, turning to him like harmless, trusting pet birds, "They shall not defeat us. They are merely a rabble. To be put down at any cost."

His eyes flick across the stage and find me.

"What say you Victor?" he sneers, and I know…I know this is still being broadcast, across Panem, to District 13, to District 4. "Where do you stand?"

I get to my feet slowly, walking to the front of the stage, and I see his eyes flash with triumph. He believes there is no way I will risk my own safety, that I will dare defy him now, here in the spotlight. He believes he has me under his thumb, controlled.

He thinks he knows me.

He's dead wrong.

"I stand against you." I say loudly, and the Capitol gasps. "I stand against YOU!" and I point at the President as Peacekeepers flood the stage. "I stand with District 4. I stand with District 2. I stand with the Rebellion."

Before they grab me I turn to the camera and I know my words are heard.

"Once I told you…not yet…but soon." I tell the world, ignoring Snow's rage as he roars at them to arrest me, "I tell you now." I take a deep breath, "It's time."

"It's time now."

I just have time to see Haymitch's proud smile before he is knocked unconscious, to see Mags slip into the shadows, before the Peacekeepers grab me and I know no more.

Chapter Text

"Sky….Sky….Wake up sweetheart….Sky!"

The voice is the first thing I focus on as I swim up out of the murky blackness that had become all too familiar to me recently. Unconsciousness, and the inevitably unpleasant awakening, is starting to be almost common place.

Slowly I force my eyes open, and groan.

"There you are. You took your sweet time sweetheart."

Blinking rapidly, forcing my eyes to focus, I look around, and frown slightly.

I'm lying on a cot, a small cot against a smooth polished concrete wall and the floors of my cell, for that is where I am, are made of the same material. The bars trapping me are made of strong, polished metal and stretch from floor to ceiling, boxing me in.

The entire effect is sobering. Efficient, easy to clean, easy to maintain…solid.

I'm just grateful that the little privy they gave me at least has a small metal screen shielding it from passers by.

Some modesty is preserved at least.

It's then that I see just who the voice belongs to, and slip from the cot, crawling across the concrete to the bars when my legs refuse to carry me properly.

"Haymitch…" I whisper, smiling slightly as I press my face between the cool metal bars, "You're here for the party too?"

He lets out a low, startled bark of laughter.

"You've been hanging around Finnick too long."

"Impossible…" I smile, my heart panging even though now I know…now I know, "Haymitch…are they really alive? Truly?"

"Truly." He coughs gruffly and looks a little ashamed, "Big…elaborate scheme…"

"Why didn't you tell me?" I whisper back, inching even closer, "Why did you let me…why did they let me…"

"Sky…" Haymitch smiles ruefully, "You are the world's worst liar."

I blink at him, affronted, "I am not!"

"You are." He rolls his eyes, "You're a fucking awful liar, even I know that. Small things, or things you can kind of hide under stuff…then you're fine. But witnessing the deaths of everyone you love? Sky…everyone knew you were going to be inconsolable. Any kind of…falseness and the gig was up."

"You…they let me believe everyone I love was dead!" I hiss at him, furious despite knowing there was a large element of truth to his words. I wouldn't have been able to fake losing Finnick, Cato, Peeta, Katniss, Gloss, Sefir, Cashmere…all of them…I couldn't fake that.

But it doesn't change the fact that they'd made me suffer it.

"It was necessary!" Haymitch growls back, "Wake up sweetheart! This is war!"

I glare at him and haul myself to my feet, wobbling my way back to my cot before flopping back down, curling away from him, and my hand gently smoothing over the curve of my abdomen.

"Teesa," I whisper to her, and smile, "Your daddy's alive love. Your daddy, and your Uncle Peeta, and Uncle Finnick and Aunt Katniss….they're all alive…"

I don't know how much time passes before the clang of a door and the jangling of keys rings in my ears.

The door to my cell opens and I sit up as two Peacekeepers enter the room, their hands rough as they haul me up.

I hear Haymitch shout, see the older man flinging himself against the bars of his cage as they practically drag me from my cell.

"Where are you taking her?! Sky! SKY!"

Then a door clangs behind me, and his voice is cut off, and the silence is…heavy…stifling.

Their boots echo on the smooth floor as my breaths ring in the enclosed area. All I can hear are their shoes and my laboured breathing until they suddenly turn and I'm shoved into another room, pushed down onto a chair, rather like a medical examination one.

My insides start to quake at this, shiver with fear as my heart rate spikes. Once again I fight, but I'm no warrior, and their hands are rough as they bind me to the cold metal chair.

Fingers scrabble as I try to free myself from the cuffs, until suddenly I still, as a laugh rumbles around the room.

"Ah the lovely Miss Cavendish."

It's Snow, Snow's voice, echoing around the smooth walls of my prison, and I know he's somewhere, probably his opulent mansion, observing this as we speak.

The thought makes me scowl.

"Actually," I grit out, "It's Mrs DuGrey."

"Ah yes…." His voice is sinister, "DuGrey. Cato DuGrey. Your husband is a rebel and a traitor."

"He's doing what is right," I spit back, furious, "He's doing what he must."

"And yet he abandoned you," the voice is insidious, reaching into my mind, finding my doubts, my fears, the raw wounds that the deaths of my family had left. Even their revelation, the evidence that they lived, could not heal those wounds…not yet, "He abandoned you in that Arena, left in the dark…"

"He did what he had to!" I shout back, defiant.

The laugh is cold and I yelp as suddenly sharp spikes jab into my wrists from the cuffs.

"Naïve little girl…" he whispers and I can't block out his words as burning pain starts travelling up my arms, slowly, from the cuffs up towards my body, "Or did you not consider that maybe…you were convenient."

"No," I shake my head, furious, even as the burning reaches my shoulders, "You lie!"

"Perhaps…" his voice is amused, as the burning agony reaches my heart and suddenly blasts through my body, surging with my heartbeats. One. Two. Three.

It's burning agony, and the last thing I recognise, before my world dissolves into the searing flames and my own terrible screams, is his voice.

"…or perhaps not…."

I come to crumpled on the blessedly cool floor of my cell, to Haymitch's shouts as his own cell is opened and he is hauled out.


He shouts my name and I barely have energy to lift a hand towards him before he's gone, and I slump back down.

For a little while, all I can feel is the cool, smoothness of the concrete under my cheek, and then…suddenly I hear Haymitch's voice again.

"You bastards!" he rages, and I look around sharply, hunting for him, "You toe-fungus curling, ape-shit eating maggots!"

I can't see him, even when I struggle my way to my feet, biting down screams as my body burns with the residual pain from the venom, or whatever it was that they injected me with. He's not in the hallway, not in his cell, and I look around wildly until I see the small speakers, located around my cell.

They're broadcasting it.


"Haymitch Abernathy," Snow's voice sounds sinisterly amused, "It's taken a long time for us to come to this. I should have dealt with you long ago."

"Snow." Haymitch seethes, I can hear it, even as I clutch at the bars, breathing deeply, unable to move without fiery agony, "I've been so looking for the day when I could kick your ass. Get in here and let's see if I can't make you dance to one of MY tunes."

"You always did have a way with words," Snow chuckles, but there is no humour in it, "What was it you said? 'Twice as stupid as usual'? Well you certainly lived up to that."

"What do you want you pus filled bag of shit?" Haymitch spits back, "Because I hate to tell you, but I've got nothing for you."

"Well now you see Mister Abernathy," Snow chuckles and I shiver again, sliding back down to the ground, "I don't believe that for a second. I believe you have a great many things to share. You will tell me everything, everything you've ever heard, ever seen, ever touched, ever thought, because all you will want is for the pain to end. And only then…when I have taken everything away from you…only then…will you die."

"No…" I groan, trying to shout it, "No!"

But I already know that he won't be able to hear me. They would have broadcast my own session to him…and I'm sure he would have had plenty of things to say.

"Fuck. You." Haymitch growls, and I hear Snow laugh, a quiet, self satisfied laugh and then I hear Haymitch scream, and scream and scream.

I can't block him out, the sounds of his agony, even with my hands over my ears, even as I huddle there on the floor, tears dripping onto the cold, unyielding floor, I hear him scream.

It's an eternity before they bring him back, and dump him in the cell across from me.

"Haymitch…" I whisper, pressing against the bars to reach out, fingers straining over the hallway towards him, "Haymitch!"

"I'm fine…" he rumbles back, but there is an uncharacteristic quaver to his voice, "I'm fine sweetheart."

He's proud, so proud, and slowly I draw back my arm, just watching him.


"He was lying you know." The grey eyes meet mine and I blink at him once, confused, "Snow. When he was talking to you. He said…he told you Cato abandoned you. He was lying."

"I know…"

"No you don't." He sighs, and shifts forward, wincing at even that tiny movement, "Sky, we figured pretty quickly that the drug would have to be our method of getting everyone out. And then…you were pregnant. Before that, we weren't sure who would make it to the end. Some wanted Peeta or Katniss... more wanted you. But once we knew about your baby…it had to be you."

"What?" I press even closer, my voice low, "Why couldn't it have been Peeta or Katniss."

"The drug…lowered heartrates. It brought bodily functionality down to a level that would fool the trackers, fool them into thinking the person was dead. And it gave the appearance of it too…"

I nod, "So…"

"The baby wouldn't have survived it. Your body…your daughter would have died."

I stare at him, and my heart lurches painfully, as my hand automatically drops to curl around the curve of my stomach. Lose her…no…

"Cato wouldn't consider it." Haymitch sighs, "None of them would. It was like losing another child to the Hunger Games, all of them refused, even before they knew you. Finnick threatened to chop balls and breasts off and shove them down throats if they even thought about nicking you with a blade. He has a way with words. I think Cato gave him the threat…or Deccia…."

"Or Enobaria…" I smile weakly and he groans.

"District 2 must be a madhouse." He mutters, "You have my condolences."

"What for?" I whisper back, grinning slightly.

"You married one of them. You're like….related…"

I roll my eyes at him, but smile slightly at the husky chuckle that drifts to my ears.

We stay where we are, huddled as close together as we can be. And somehow I fall asleep there, leaning against the cold metal bars, Haymitch's voice speaking softly like a soothing lullaby.

In a room where the light never dims from blinding brightness, where there is no clock, no means of structure, time becomes loose.

I have no idea how many days, even weeks, pass, trapped as I am in my cell.

6 paces. Be it from wall to wall, or wall to bars, it was always 6 paces.

For someone raised in the sun, with the sea, the salt, the wind, and the space to run, being confined like this is wearing. And it is wearing thin.

I pace restlessly, eating what was given, and only leaving my cell when I am grabbed by the Peacekeepers.

Sometimes it is me first, sometimes Haymitch, but always we had to listen to the others interrogations, and that…that is the hardest part.

I can hear him choking, spluttering, and the sound of splashing as he fights helplessly to stop his head from being shoved under, to stop the air being forced from his lungs.

It hurts to hear it, knowing what is happening. It's so familiar now…so familiar that I can almost imagine it.

In medieval times they would interrogate someone with water, almost drowning them until they would answer with desperation, with desperation to breathe air.

It's a technique that apparently has not gone out of fashion in the Capitol.

Except they are using wine…not water.

They are drowning him in wine.

"What are the rebel's plans?" Snow's voice is arctic as I hear Haymitch's head removed from the liquid, hear him choke and cough and retch, "Where are their hideouts?"

"Screw you…" Haymitch pants, and then I hear him shoved under again, so long that I fear…I fear this time…

Then he surfaces again and I let out my own breath, as Snow chuckles, "Bring the girl. Take the…sot…back to his kennel."

My turn, I realise, giving a hoarse chuckle, and clapping a hand over my mouth as the almost insane sound leaves my lips. Good lord…the last thing I need right now is to lose it.

The door down the hallway clangs open and the boots tramp up to the two cells. Haymitch is deposited back in his cage and then they turn to me.

"Get her up," a voice grunts, and for a moment I blink, frowning down at the floor as it registers.

It's familiar.

Too familiar.

I look up as the cell opens and hands grab me, and I turn to look up at the peacekeepers. Two of them are unrecognisable, square jaws, hard mouths and dull hazel and brown eyes watching the way ahead as they usher me forward.

The third, the one opening and locking the doors….he's familiar, that jaw is familiar, that mouth…but he doesn't look at me, and I don't dare peer at him.

They push me into the room and shove me down into a hard metal chair…not the examination chair, a normal chair, behind a sturdy desk….that has old stains across it…dried blood stains.

I shudder, and the man behind the desk chuckles.


"Sky," he leans towards me and I struggle not to shudder as his fetid breath washes over me. He smells of blood, heart blood, like he's been drinking the stuff. The thought makes me stomach rebel, but I bite down the urge to retch.

"Snow," I murmur back, keeping my voice even with effort, "How are you today?"

That makes him chuckle, a low, icy chuckle that grates across my skin.

"So polite. And yet…I think we're beyond that…don't you?"

Oh yes, I think, almost savagely, we are well beyond that. Considering I want you dead.

Instead of saying it, I just blink at him placidly.

"I grow tired of these games Miss Cavendish." He always calls me this, never Mrs DuGrey, "I fear…I must resort to more…stringent methods to secure your…co-operation."

Stringent methods.

He sees my mouth tighten, and smiles, no warmth anywhere in that expression.

"Tell me Miss Cavendish…if you had to choose…would you save your baby….or your husband?"

I stare at him, my gut wrenching.

"What?" I whisper, and he smiles again.

"Let me…make it simple for you."

Hands clamp down on my arms, holding me down to my seat, as another Peacekeeper tugs my head back, forcing my mouth open.

I struggle, but days, weeks, whatever it is…of inactivity...torture…limited rations…I have no strength to fight this.

Snow stands over me, an ornate goblet in his hands.

"You tell me…everything you know," he smiles coldly before dipping a finger into the goblet and bringing it up so it drips slowly back down, "Or I pour this down your throat…."

He leans forward, brushing the wet fingertip down my cheek towards my mouth.

"And this…delightful concotion….comes with a guarantee…once it passes your lips…you have three hours…three hours for me to administer the antidote…or…" his hand pats my belly and I give a strangled scream of fury, "Well…little Teesa Clove DuGrey won't live long enough to see the light of day…let's just go with that mmm?"

I thrash in the peacekeepers hold and howl at him like a wounded animal, and he just smiles down at me, vindictive.

"Let go of her mouth. Now…Miss Cavendish. Tell me…if you please. And we can avoid all this…unpleasantness mm?"

I gasp at him, my mind seething with panic, fear, horror.

He'll do it. No question.

But…if I tell him…if I tell him.

Hundreds of lives. Thousands even…

"I….can't…." I sob the words out, "I don't know…anything!"

"Hmmmm…" Snow tuts softly, "Pity."

And in a flash my head is wrenched back and the cold, hard rim of the goblet is between my teeth, bitter liquid pouring into my mouth.

It's swallow or drown, as a Peacekeeper pinches my nose, and I sob bitterly as I swallow….swallowing the poison that will kill my daughter.

"I've heard a mother will do anything for her children," Snow murmurs, ignoring my hysterical sobbing, "Let's see if it is true. See you in 2 and a half hours Miss Cavendish. I wonder if you'll be more…amenable then."

They haul me out of the room, tossing me back into my cell, and I just curl up, ignoring Haymitch's desperate voice as I hug my knees close, trying to protect the curve of my belly, the life growing in me…the life now threatened.



"Sky…" his voice is urgent, "Sky…I'm sorry…but you can't….you can't…"

And I wail, drowning out his words, because I know…I KNOW…and it's killing me.

He falls silent then, just watching me, mouth still stained red from the wine, but his grey eyes are haunted, watching me rock.

I don't know how long it is before suddenly…suddenly…my stomach begins to cramp, and my muscles spasm across my abdomen.

I scream and Haymitch swears, throwing himself against his bars again.


"No!" I wail, but the cramps go on, and on, and on, painful, and I know…I know it's the poison trying to rip my child from me.

I don't know how long it is before the bleeding starts, slow at first, growing heavier as I just lay there on the ground, hands pressed against my belly against my pants, trying to hold her in.

"Please…" I sob, "Please….Teesa…don't leave me…don't leave me…my daughter…"

"Monster!" I hear Haymitch snarling in the distance, "You fucking…get away from her!"

The cell door clangs open and then there is a white Peacekeeper kneeling before me, a vial in his hands.

"Drink," the voice is the same one from before, familiar. And without thinking my mouth opens, opening up helplessly as sweetness floods my mouth. I choke but the voice is stern, "Swallow it."

I do, just.

Time passes, infestisimal, eternal…and the bleeding slows….stops…the cramps…fade…and I slowly look up into the face of the man crouching over me.

"Lucan…" I whisper.

Cato's brother nods, jaw tight and I hear Haymitch suck in a breath across the hallway.

"What…?" I murmur, "What are…"

"This is a rescue." He informs me, voice cool as ever, "Let's go."

Another Peacekeeper moves over and I start again as I recognise the face under this helm as well.

"Vittor," I whisper, and I see his mouth twitch, "You…"

"I still fucking hate you," he hisses back, "But I'd rather hate you out there than in here. Lucan, we need to move."

"We'll explain once you're safe," Lucan lifts me and carries me out of the cell, laying me on a metal trolley. I'd seen these during my stay, rolling past, pushed by peacekeepers, usually with a body or two on them, "Get Abernathy."

"Both of us?" Haymitch hisses, "Bit risky…"

"Shut up," Lucan glares back, "I'm not explaining to my sister why I left you behind."

That does shut Haymitch up and Vittor hauls him up and into the body bag on the lower shelf of the roller.

"Ready?" Lucan asks as Vittor hisses.

"Who fucking cares! Zip em!"

I nod and Lucan nods back, before gently and apologetically jabbing a needle into my arm.

"Sorry." He murmurs, as the world dissolves around me, "See you soon."

And then…for what seems like the hundredth time…I know no more.

Chapter Text

"Just how much did you give her!"

The voice is familiar, but my brain, heavy and full of hazy fog, can't quite put a name to it.

It's the first thing I notice as I swim up out of unconsciousness, the voice, familiar, teasing at my mind. Then, slowly, I notice thick, coarse sheets under me, different from the cell ones. The smell is different too, I notice, my nose twitching slightly as I inhale. It smells like…food…cooking….

"No more than we were meant to!" Another voice retorts, less familiar, but still….known. There is a bite to it too, bitterness…I've never heard it without that note.

"We wouldn't damage her Cato."

A different voice…a new voice…but my mind is caught on the name.


My eyes shoot open and the woman sprawled in a chair beside my bed jerks, limbs flailing slightly.

"Holy crap!"

"Deccia!" hurried footsteps and then the door to the room slams open and four figures barrel in, coming to a stop when they notice me, eyes open, watching them.

A part of me notices that the other three men are Lucan, Vittor and Haymitch, looking pale, and wobbly on his feet. But it's the other man, the first to enter, that I can't look away from.


For a moment all I can see is blood, the spray of it as Finnick's trident stabs into him. For a moment all I can see is the limp way his body crumples to the icy rocks, eyes….empty.

'He abandoned you,'

Snow's silky voice, his lying tongue, but the words, for all I know, logically, aren't true…not really…still burn in my mind.

We stare at each other for long moments, before Deccia breaks the silence.

"Oo-kay, so this is fucking awkward. Lucan, Beanstalk, Little Shit…let's go out into the other room, give them a moment yeah?"

"But we have to…"

"Not right at this very moment," Deccia shoves Vittor out the door, "Stop being a contrary little dick."

The door clicks shut behind them and slowly, carefully Cato moves to take Deccia's seat by my bed.

Carefully I shift, turning to face him slightly, my hand dropping to touch my belly, checking the curve of it.

"The baby is fine," Cato's voice is careful, stilted, but his blue eyes are fixed on me, intent, "She…is fine."

I remember searing pain, cramping, and blood, so much blood. I'd thought…

"You're sure…?"

"Pretty yeah…" he smiles tensely, "She kicked. Deccia felt it when she was checking you."

"Haymitch told me Cato," I say quietly, too tired and strung out to beat around the bush, "He told me why it had to be me, and why you didn't tell me."

"I know…" He reaches out and takes my hand, "He said he explained it."

"And…I understand…I do but…" My voice trails off and I look down slightly.

"It was the only way…" his voice is quiet.

"I know…but it doesn't change that it happened."

"Sky," he reaches out to me, hand cradling my cheek and I flinch away instinctively, causing his face to darken, "It wasn't real."

"I know that." I growl back at him, "You're alive…I can see that. I'm not stupid Cato."

"Then why are you acting like this?" He snarls; temper spiking, "We saved your life. And our daughter's? Would you have preferred it if we just…killed her."

Fury sears through my and I thump him hard in the shoulder, "How dare you!" I spit at him.

Cato catches my wrist and growls at me again but hesitates when someone speaks from the doorway.

"Oi, you two, that's enough," Deccia's face is creased in an uncharacteristic frown as she looks between us, and Cato lets go of my wrist like he's been burned, "Sky, I know this is all…well I can only imagine it's fucking overwhelming. But this is a safe house. We're still in the Capitol…technically."

My face pales and Cato makes a low, anxious sound in his throat.

"We're leaving," Lucan's voice is steady, cool, calm, and even though I know he is only doing his duty as Cato's brother, it is a comfort. He sounds so in control, and with everything so…chaotic in me…that measured tone is soothing, "Vittor's getting the car ready."

"Where's Beanstalk?" Deccia turns to him, and Lucan arches an eyebrow slightly.

"He's glaring at the water jug. I told him to stay put. He wanted to come in." The cool blue eyes meet mine, "I figured another hot temper would…be inadvisable."

"Septim was always the smart one," Deccia pats his cheek as he moved past her, "Must be rubbing off on you."

"Fuck off," he mutters at her, walking to my bedside, efficiently shouldering Cato out of the way, "Move." He grunts at his younger brother who glares at him furiously, "This isn't time for one of your pissing contests. She's not comfortable with you yet. So I'm doing it, so we can leave…so we don't die."

Cato looks at him and then at me, as though hoping that I will refute it.

But I can't.

I don't know what I'm feeling right now.

"Cato," Deccia's voice is surprisingly kind, "Get Haymitch to the car. I'll help Lucan with Sky."

With a last look back at me, Cato leaves, barging from the room. I wince at the door banging behind him, but I don't say anything.

For the first time in a year I don't know what to say, I don't know how to fix it. For so long we've been on the same wavelength, united by the bonds of allies, lovers, partners, of grief, loss, struggle.

For so long we've been on parallel lines. Following the same track in different ways. But now…now it feels like we're worlds apart once more. Like we were when we met.

When he was the monster tribute from 2 and I was the shy archivist from 4.

How it's changed.

"I didn't know." Deccia's voice is quiet as Lucan gently disentangles me from the sheets, one large hand touching my belly carefully, "They didn't tell us their plan. We only found out when the Rebellion pulled us from our Districts."

In a way it's a relief, to know that Deccia, upfront, painfully honest Deccia, wasn't lying to me.

"Thank you," I breathe as Lucan hefts me, "Thank you Lucan."

"You're family," The former Peacekeeper murmurs, "We…aren't close, but…you're family."

I'm tucked in the back of the sleek white car, Haymitch beside me and Cato on my other side. Deccia is in the driver's seat, Vittor beside her and Lucan standing, weapon in his hands as he scans the skies.

I don't know what I expect when we set out.

But it's certainly not what happens.

The car ride is harrowing, Deccia driving like a madwoman as suddenly hovercraft swerve out of nowhere, other cars zooming behind us.

Weapons chatter as we're fired on, and Haymitch shoves my head down, leaning over me, swearing.

I see Vittor leaning out of the car window, a large assault rifle in his hands as he fires on our pursuers. I see fire bursting from the muzzle of it and flinch, shivering. I can hear Lucan and Vittor shouting things to one another, and then glass shatters and I feel Cato shift, twisting, and new gunfire chatter nearby.

Vittor laughs, and for a moment I see the family resemblance, Clove's bright eyes, and sharp face. I see the same sharpness, the same passion and spark. Not fire…but electricity…and the same ferocity.

For the first time…I truly see him as Clove's brother.

I narrow my focus to the feeling of Haymitch's panting breaths against my ear and neck. The sound of Deccia's rambling at the car, monologuing her efforts, and crooning at it to hold together.

I close my eyes as we swerve violently, and I hear Haymitch retch above me.

"Don't be sick on me." I whisper, and somehow I know he hears because his breath puffs in a laugh.

"Don't you die on me."


"ALL HAIL THE FUCKING CAVALRY!" Deccia's voice suddenly bawls above the sounds of tires, and chattering weaponry, and the noise levels increase, more gunfire filling the air as the car swerves, skidding to a stop, "OUTOUTOUTOUTOUT! GOGOGOGO!"

The doors bursts open and hands grab Haymitch, hauling him out as I scramble after him, sprawling against rough loose gravel and grit as I blink, trying to see what's happening. Things are blurring, and then suddenly there are hands, familiar hands.

"Come on!" Deccia drags me with her, and I clutch at my belly as I stumble after her. Cato charges over, flanking us, guarding our backs, and it's jarring for a moment to see him, kitted in something like armour, a sleek weapon in his hands.

He is smooth with it, like silk, as he sights and shoots. And for a moment I'm reminded of the brash, overconfident boy I'd once known. This man is calm, efficient, a warrior.

We struggle to a hovercraft landed nearby and then Deccia grunts, just as we stagger onboard, hands grabbing us as the craft takes off.

"Deccia!" Haymitch barks her name, only to have her wave him off.

"It's nothing…"

"Shut your mouth," he snaps and I look around to see him shove her into a seat as men and women flood into the room, "She got hit."

"Haymitch!" She stares at him, "What are you doing?"

He leans in as I feel hands sit me up against a wall, "You die…and I'm going to find a way to bring you back just to kill you myself."

I see a brief smile from her before suddenly my field of vision is taken up by white dressed figures.


That voice.

I look up, eyes already filling with tears, and there he is, Peeta, my Sunshine, dressed like a medic, with a small frown on his face as he crouches beside me.

"Peeta…" I croak.

A sad smile and then his gentle hands are running over me, "You've not been looking after yourself my love," he says softly, a hand coming up to feel my forehead, "I'm sorry we couldn't come sooner."

"How long….?" I breathe as I feel myself hauled up once more.

Cato's hands are gentle and instantly recognisable as he lifts me and I stay where I am as he carries me into the small medical wing on the craft.

"Over two months."

Two months.

Two months…and a bit…of torture…of pain…of this...darkness growing.

"Oh." I breathe.

Then I let the world fade out for a while, letting it all wash over me.

Let someone else worry about it all for a while.

I come awake in a medium sized room, clean, with smooth stone walls and floors. For a moment I panic, thinking I'm back in the Capitol, back in my cell, and then I relax as I see colour, rugs on the floor, hangings on the wall.

The bed is soft, warm, and for a moment I sigh in comfort, before a voice stirs me from it.

"You're awake."

Peeta closes a book from where he'd been curled up on the couch nearby, and gets up, padding over to sit down beside me, his hand gently curling around mine.


"Finnick's on his way," the young man says, blue eyes soft as he watches me, "He wanted to go to get you back, but Command overruled him, and then when he threw a hissy fit, they sent him off with Katniss."

"With Katniss?" I murmur, eyebrow arching, "Where did they go?"

"They had…lots of things have changed Sky," he squeezes my hand, "They've been filming propos. But they should be back soon."

"Tell me," I whisper, "Tell me everything Peeta."

His blue gaze meets mine, and he looks troubled.

"The Districts are with us, but the Capitol still has forces in each of them, and they're fighting, tooth and nail. They know…they know if they lose their toeholds out there, there won't be anything stopping us from launching an assault against the Capitol."

I nod, "Are the Districts united?"

Peeta hesitates and then shakes his head, "With every day there goes by, there is more friction." He sighs sadly, "Katniss and Cato have been at each other's throats, and they are two of the leaders." He rubs his face, "District 2 follows Cato, and Deccia. They are its leaders. District 12 looks to Katniss, or rather its people do."

"District 1 sides with 2, and so does 5." He shakes his head exasperated, "11 sides with 12, as does 10. The others are more impartial, and District 13…"

He pauses and shakes his head again, "I shouldn't be burdening you with this, you just woke up."

"No," I grab his arm, alert for the first time in, I don't know how long, "What is 13 doing?"

"Nothing." He says, and for a moment I frown, opening my mouth to try and force him to explain, and then…then I catch the firmness with which he said the word.

"Nothing." I say slowly and I see his blue eyes light up, "They don't try to stop the bickering?"

Peeta's head shakes slowly.

I purse my lips, "Well that's got to stop. The bickering."

"It'll be better now you're here," He says it with absolute faith, and for a moment panic floods me, "You're a good influence on Cato. District 1, 2 and 5 will look to you, and the others respect you."

"Peeta," I shake my head, "I think you overestimate my…"

"No…" his voice is definite, "When you were grabbed, you and Haymitch. Everything went to shit. We'd….you were in all the plans, your influence, your…calm. Without you…without you Katniss and Cato both wanted to raze things to the ground and no one would gainsay it. Finnick was half mad with grief…and Gale…well Gale just egged it all on."

Gale, that was a name I hadn't heard in a while. Katniss' friend, Peeta's rival…someone she loved…had kissed.

"Gale is here?"

"Yeah," his mouth tenses unhappily, "He's been off with Katniss and Finnick."

I process his words and backtrack a little, "Why was Finnick grieving…surely you knew they wouldn't just summarily execute us. Not without a ceremony and show."

My lip curls at the thought.

Peeta looks stricken, "Oh god I thought they'd told you."

"Told me…?" I stare at him, "Told me what Peeta?"

"Mags…" he closes his eyes, "She got word to us…true word about you…about Haymitch…but they found her. They've been hunting Victors…"

"She's dead…" I say it quietly, and for a moment the world blurs around me once more, "Isn't she?"

Peeta nods, "Sky…"

"Anyone else?" I ask, keeping my voice calm, "Anyone else dead?"

"It's war…" his voice is soft, "Yes…other people have died…"

"Anyone I…"

"No…none of our Victors. None of us."

I let out a breath, "My parents? Darrien's family?"


I feel tears prick my eyes, "Peeta…"

As always he understands and he crawls onto the bed, cuddling me close as I clutch at him.

"I'm sorry Sky," he whispers it, "I'm sorry…I'm sorry…"

"It's okay…"

"No it's not…" he cups my cheeks, "You thought…we…we left you there…"

There's nothing to say…it's true…they did…and I can't say it's okay…the words stick…they burn…they hurt.

He knows. And he doesn't argue.

So we stay silent, and if I hold him a little too tight, and if I feel tears drip onto my hair, neither of us say anything.

I'm dressed and stretching when Cato steps into the room, tense and braced for a fight.

Slowly I lower my own arms, turning to face him.

We knew this was coming, and a part of me smiles at the fact he came so soon, to face me, to have this out.

Cato doesn't have it in him to run from a fight.

"Sky." He says it carefully.


"You are well?"

"Yes." I fold my arms, "So…what are we going to do?"

He stares at me, and for a moment I think he's going say, 'about what?'

"I don't know."

I swallow and take a deep breath, "You left me in the Hunger Games. Left me in the Capitol, you let me think…let me believe everyone was dead."

"It was the only way."

"I understand that," I grit out in return, "Believe me…I do. But…it doesn't change the fact that it happened."

He sucks in a breath and his eyes flash, "We did what we had to."

"The ends justify the means?" I taunt back at him and he growls.

"Stop fucking twisting my words! You know that's not what I meant!"

"Really?" I shout back, "You have no idea what it was like!"

"What do you think it was like for me!" He roars back, "Knowing the Capitol had you…had you and our daughter both!"

"You weren't the one they shoved poison down the throat of!" I howl it at him, "You weren't the one who thought that almost everyone you loved was dead! Because you failed them!"

"It wasn't real!" He thunders, flinging his hand out, "IT WAS FAKE! PRETEND! WE WEREN'T DEAD!"


We stand there, chests heaving, and he is staring at me, as I pant, the rawness of my scream still echoing in the heavy air around us.

"It was real to me," I repeat, my voice soft now, and I wince as it cracks, "I lost you. Every single one of you, Sefir, Gloss, Katniss, Peeta, Finnick…you…I had to watch each of you die…I felt each of you die." I close my eyes, and grit my teeth, "So don't you /dare/ tell me it wasn't real." I spit, "Because my grief, my loss, that was real. Real for me. And I need time… to get past losing you."

"I'm right here." He steps forward and his warmth, his heat, his bulk washes over me as he lifts shaking hands to touch my cheeks, "I'm here. Unlost…found again…Sky…"

I lean into him, breathing in the scent of him, the warmth, the safety.

For a moment I feel content, protected.

And then I hear the shick of steel, the wet sound of blood and flesh parting, and I see his lifeless body slump to the ground.

"I need time…" I whisper.

He pulls back, and his face is cold, hard, that emotionless, angry mask of the Career I'd hoped never to see again.

"You forgave Peeta. But you won't forgive me. What about Odair?"

"I didn't," I say it quietly, "I didn't forgive him. Or Finnick. Or you." I hesitate, "Cato…I…I just….stay please…? I need to know…. I need…"

I need to know you won't disappear…I need you to be here…

He softens slightly, but there is still a chasm yawning between us, even as we lay down, even as we curl up together, our bodies remembering even as our emotions struggle.

His hand cradles my belly and his breath is soft against my shoulder as we nestle together.

For the first time in months…since the beginning of the Hunger Games, since our wedding even, I feel safe. I feel the tension sliding away.

"I love you," I whisper, and I feel him sigh with relief, and his lips brush my neck softly.

"I know. I love you too."

Slowly I drift off into slumber, and just before I slide away, I hear his voice, and feel the light brush of his fingertips, sliding hair away from my neck.

"I'll not leave you again. I swear it."

Chapter Text

It doesn't take me long to realise that District 13 is not my kind of place.

I'm allowed up out of my bed the next day, under the watchful gaze of my mother, who is by my bed when I wake up, eyes full of tears. We don't say anything about the last time we saw one another, that Reaping morning where she brushed my hair and I admitted my plans to volunteer. Instead she just kisses me, and after I have bathed she brushes my hair.

She leaves around lunchtime, but pauses in the doorway, her hand gently touching my arm.


We look at one another, and for the first time I notice the strands of grey at her temples, straying through her auburn hair, and the lines around her blue eyes. Her achingly familiar face is worn with concern looking at me.

My mother looks older; her worry for me has aged her.

"Mama…" I whisper and her hands come up, cupping my cheeks.

"You grew up," she says softly, "One day you were my little girl, and then you were gone…I couldn't protect you from it. And when you came back…"

"I wasn't me…" I close my eyes, feeling her disappointment like a hot knife, "I wasn't your little girl anymore."

"You'll always be my baby girl," she kisses my cheek, her voice suddenly firm, "And I will always love you, no matter what. You understand me?"

I lean into her, suddenly desperate for something I hadn't even known I wanted. I'd been so lost in my head after the first Hunger Games, so lost in my grief, clutching at Finnick, Peeta and Cato, who I knew understood, and so afraid of not fitting into my old life that I'd….hidden from it.

"I'm sorry..." I whisper into her shoulder and she soothes me, stroking my hair, holding me close like only a mother can, "I'm so sorry…"

"It's not your fault," she holds me close; "It's not. I never blamed you love."

Eventually we separate, my mother heading back to the compartment she shares with my father, with a promise to see me tomorrow, and me to sit down on my bed and stare down at the schedule that had been imprinted on my arm.

I stare at the letters, at the numbers for long moments and then slowly I turn my wrist down and curl my fingers into a fist.

It's not what I need right now, cold figures telling me where to be, portioning my life into neat, manageable chunks. It's so cold, so impersonal, so brusque, efficient, calculating.

It's like the Capitol, I think, a chill creeping up my spine, except there they hide their ruthless structure behind ridiculousness. Here it is all regimented.

For long moments I ponder District 13 and frown. They hid for years while the other District's struggled.

And they do nothing to stop the bickering amongst the District leaders, I think, pondering Peeta's words from yesterday; you would think it would serve the rebellion better for all to be united.

What could be gained by playing Katniss and Cato against one another?

I purse my lips and lift my wrist again.

13:00 – Command.

I still have 20 minutes to go and eat the lunch that has been assigned to me, but I feel little desire to eat anything. If I knew where Command was I'd just go straight there myself, but…I do not.

I have to wait for someone to collect me. I'm sure they won't forget. For some reason they all still believe I am worth something for this cause

Slowly my hand strokes down the swell of my abdomen, curving around the life growing there. So strong, I think with a small smile, this little life inside of me, so fierce, so determined.

Like her father.

And for a moment there is the expected, remembered swell of pain.

"He's alive," I whisper, leaning over slightly, feeling like I'm reassuring the little girl growing inside me, "He's alive….it wasn't real."

It wasn't real.

How much else wasn't real, I wonder, fingers tightening against the shapeless grey cloth of the clothes I am wearing, how much else did I have wrong?

I frown, looking back over my months with the Capitol, the week of the Quarter Quell the week of preparation. How much was real? Were Cato, Finnick and Peeta lying to me even now? Using affection and my love for them against me, blinding me to truth and keeping me deaf for my own safety and theirs?

It's a disturbing thought.

But not one I can dismiss.

"Who can I trust?" I whisper, and pause, thinking.

My mother, my father, Darrien's family, Deccia….and Katniss.

She was the only one in the Quell who knew even less than I did. All the others knew.

I've made my peace with Haymitch, months of shared torture tend to drag you together, but only time will tell if I can get past this…dark cloud inside me, that corrupts my bonds with the others.

The door to my compartment slides open and I stand, shifting automatically to a defensive stance even as my brain recognises one of the two men entering the room.

"Look at you!" Finnick strides in, and beams at me, "Deccia would be so proud of you right now."

It would be so easy to slide back into the easy banter, to just…forgive. But I can't….not yet.

"Who is this?" I nod at the young man following Finnick in, handsome, with olive skin, dark hair and a pair of hard grey eyes. He looks like Katniss does something Peeta had once described as a look of the Seam. District 12 then…and it clicks, "You're Gale, aren't you?"

The young man nods, eyeing me consideringly, "And you're the famous Sky."

"This is her," Finnick's smile has dimmed slightly in response to my cool reaction to his arrival, but he now moves forward, green eyes hopeful. I'm not so much of a monster to push him away now, and so let him hug me, the familiar warmth of him curling around me, the familiar smell of his skin.

It's comforting.

It's real.

It's real.

I cling to him and I hear him sigh, with relief perhaps, and hold me tight to him.

"Sky," he murmurs softly, "I missed you so much sweetheart."

I see red. Blood splashed against snow, blood against the Capitol's white tiles.

I pull back and then I punch him in the nose.

Finnick yelps and suddenly Gale is there, hand hovering between us, hesitant, clearly unsure about restraining me, but still protective of Finnick, who is clutching his face.

"You lied to me." I hiss at him, "You left me in that hellish Arena and you let me believe that everyone had fucking died! You chose that path for me so don't you dare say you 'missed me'."

"Sky…" he stares up at me, green eyes wide with hurt and now concern, "Sky that wasn't the plan."

"What wasn't?" I snap at him, restlessly shifting.

"You were only to believe it for a few days; you were never supposed to be dragged into it while you were still in the Capitol. But Haymitch and Mags decided…."

"Finnick," I growl, "I'm not…this isn't about the torture." Shivers run down my spine at the memories and I shove them away, "What hurt, what nearly broke me, was the thought that you were all dead. I was there when so many of you died, I saw you die! I felt no heartbeat, no breath….you were dead." Tears prick my eyes and I dig my nails into my palms.

"Sky…" Finnick whispers, "I…"

"I saw almost everyone I love and care about die. Die when I couldn't save them. And I know to you, to all of you, it was some big joke….but it wasn't for me. It was real for me…never once did I think it was a lie, that the rebellion wasn't coming for us the way I believed they would. Because I trusted you. Trusted Peeta. Trusted Cato. And you lied to me. And that…"

He moves forward, fingers twitching towards me as though he wants to pull me into another crushing hug.

"How can I fix this?" He asks quietly.

I wish I could tell him, wish I knew.

"I don't know." I reply softly, my eyes meeting Gale's thoughtful grey ones behind Finnick, "Just…give me time I guess. I need to heal."

He nods and I realise that out of them all, Finnick would be the one to understand the time it takes to reconnect the tattered edges of your mind. He loves Annie, he knows the wounds the Capitol and losing loved ones can do. He will wait, and take care of me, and he won't give up.

A little seed of warmth grows in my chest, and I give him a small smile, as Gale coughs quietly.

"We're expected in Command. Let's go."

"No." Cato's voice is firm, brooking no argument.

"It's not your decision," President Coin's voice is smooth, but cool, "It is Schuyler's."

I sit there, staring down at the strategy table, and my mind whirls, even as Cato growls warningly at the leader of District 13. He's always felt it is his prerogative to protect me, misguided as some of his efforts have proven to be.

"She is pregnant," Peeta's soft voice points out, "It would be safer for the child if she were to stay out of the combat areas…."

"The Districts need to see her alive." Haymitch drawls out, his grey eyes meeting mine as I glance up, "They've seen Katniss, battling, in action. They need to see Sky doing what Sky does."

"And what is that?" I ask him, bracing my hands on the edges of the table, "I fail to see what I can bring to this…"

"You underestimate yourself," Finnick murmurs from nearby, "As ever. Sky, you're the breath of fresh air, the soft comfort of home, the cleansing rains after the fires have swept through and burnt everything."

"He hasn't lost his flair for the dramatic…" Deccia snorts and for a moment my lips curl up into a smile, even as Finnick shoots her a dirty look.

"Katniss gives the Districts hope to fight for a better future." He continues, "You show them what that future could be…and why it's worth fighting for."

"He's right," Cato says gruffly, "People believe in you. You're…you're…love."

Deccia looks like she's desperately trying to hold in snickers, and eventually gives a hiccupping sound, burying her face in Haymitch's shoulder. Plutarch Heavensbee gives her a proud look, completely misreading it, and thinking that she's getting emotional.

It makes me grin, biting it down and staring determinedly down at the table.

"We sent Katniss out to the hospitals of District 8." Coin says cooly, and my eyes lift to meet Katniss' grey ones across the table. Something flickers in her eyes, and I frown slightly. They aren't telling me something, "Sky should do the same."

"Hopefully not exactly the same." Gale mutters from beside Katniss, giving her a dry look.

They're definitely not telling me something.

I look at Finnick.

"The Capitol bombed the hospitals just after they left," he says quietly, and my eyes widen, looking back at Katniss whose mouth tightens, "No survivors…"

My hands clench against the table, until a large, warm, familiar rough hand slides over one of them, gently prying it away and enfolding it in his. I look up at Cato who looks back, face guarded.

"I see…" I say carefully, trying not to imagine the carnage. Inside my belly little Teesa gives my spine a kick, grounding me like her father's hand holding mine, "Which Districts are the worst off?"

"The Capitol obliterated District 12," Gale says roughly, scowling down, "But we had warning, the rebels warned us."

"Before we aired the declaration of war…" Katniss speaks for the first time, "I insisted we evacuate 12."

"It proved to be sensible," Coin agrees, "There were few casualties."

My heart clenches, "What about 4?"

Everyone hesitates, glancing at one another. I instinctively look at Finnick, it's his home as well, but he is looking at the table. I follow his gaze and see no marker where 4 once was.

"Evacuated." Cato says quietly, "But destroyed. Unlike 12…they didn't use firebombs."

"They triggered a tsunami," Finnick grits out, "A well placed charge out to sea…and 4 was wiped off the face of Panem. Everything…everything is gone."

District 4 is gone. The people are safe…the people are here in 13 but.

For a moment the world stills around me.

My library. My books. My safe haven.

It's gone.

Everything sways around me and then narrows alarmingly and I can hear Finnick's voice, low and urgent, as though from far away.

"Sky, Sky, sweetheart…breathe…"

"She's having a panic attack," Cato growls, and he sounds furious, "She's not ready for this."

"She has to be." Coin's voice is implacable, "She's a part of this whether she wants to be or no. We got her out of the Capitol at great cost and risk with the promise of an asset in the war. Now she has to do her part."

Cato snarls, and instantly Deccia is there beside him, smacking him over the head.

"Shut it," I hear her murmur, her voice barely audible over the thundering of my heart, "Pick your battles brother."

"Sky," Peeta's face swims into view, blue eyes concerned as he cups my face in his hands, "Breathe with me, breath in….breathe out…breathe in…breathe out…"

Slowly the world comes back into focus and I can feel Cato, solid, grounding me, holding me upright. Finnick beside me, concerned, Deccia nearby and Katniss, her grey eyes boring into Peeta and me.

"She's more damaged than I thought," Coin says and I feel my back stiffen even as Cato growls, "Can we use that?"

Her words are directed to Plutarch Heavensbee who considers me, ever the Gamemaker contemplating a pawn on his chessboard.

"Yes," He says eventually, "She'll likely be even more compelling so fragile. And it will give more reason to hate the Capitol. Hurting something so innocent, a mother and her unborn child. Maybe she can tell the story of almost losing it…that would certainly sway…"

Cato is gone before I can blink and suddenly people shout as he slams Plutarch up against the wall, a large, crushing hand around his windpipe.

"That." He grits out as everyone freezes, terrified of setting off any instincts to defend, "Is my wife. And my child. How dare you…"

I glance at Finnick and then at Peeta. Both of them flick their eyes toward Cato, Peeta's with concern, Finnick's with resignation.

This isn't Cato's first temper explosion.

I'll need to get those stories later…

For now I move forward and rest a hand on the small of his back.

"Cato…" I murmur, and I feel him shudder against my touch, "Love…let go…"

"He hurt you…"

"Let him go."

We're all damaged, I think bleakly, stepping forward to rest my cheek between his shoulderblades, listening to his heartbeat. We've all been tortured, all suffered.

Everything is fractured.

It's my job to fix it.

Slowly Cato lets Plutarch go, and I turn my gaze towards Coin. For a moment I see her watching me assessingly, something unreadable in her cold eyes.

Certainty grips me.

This woman is no friend of mine, or of those I love. This woman wants only one thing.


Everything slots into place, Katniss and Cato being allowed to be at each other's throats, Gale, the District's fighting their own battles….

She plans to seize power at the end of this.

She's another Hunger Games Gamemaker.

I won't let you win; I think to her even as Cato turns, tugging me protectively into his arms, even as Plutarch starts babbling off other ideas for introducing me to the fight, even as Finnick strokes my hair and Katniss murmurs to Gale.

It's time for me to fight back.

Chapter Text

I realise pretty quickly that I need more information.

Over the next few days all of the leaders meet in Command to discuss plans, be they of reintroducing me to the cause, or ways of promoting Katniss, or even just general tactics. As they all talk I quietly watch the District 13 Commanders, and the Capitol citizens who had thrown their lot in with them.

I am careful, the last thing I want is to make them think that I doubt them, that I am plotting in my own head, thoughts that they would not like, but I watch them all. Plutarch Heavensbee and his team, but particularly Coin. She watches everyone too with those flinty eyes, and when she speaks she evokes almost instant compliance. This is a powerful woman...and something about her itches under my skin.

I don't trust her, and I don't trust District 13.

But what to do about it?

At the moment District 13 hold the power, they have us all on their turf, and their leaders are likely hoping to be the new Government of Panem should we succeed. Even if we were to fail at this point, they are keeping back enough resources, their nuclear weapons too, to be able to turtle up underground once more, leaving the rebelling Districts to their fates.

Just like last time.

Is that their game? Leaving behind enough to protect themselves in the case of failure? Or are they playing another hand.

I don't know, but I need to find out.

Laying in bed that night, Cato curled up behind me, one large hand resting protectively on my belly, I think over what I know, what I suspect and what I need to do. I need more information, information I won't gather by just my own eyes and ears. I need more than that.

"Where are the others now?" I ask Cato the next morning after he has gotten up and geared up in his proper soldier's attire, "The other Victors?"

"Our Victors?" he asks and I nod, "Let's see...Cash, Gloss and Enobaria are here of course, training to be soldiers. They know how to handle themselves sure enough. Beetee is down fashioning things for the Rebellion, innovation, weapons and such like. I think he has a few things for you when you go out there." He frowned at the thought and I bit back a smile. It was hard to stay mad and resentful at him when he was here with me all the time, protective, and when I had something else to think about and focus on.

"What about Wiress?" I ask, thinking about the slightly addled District 3 Victor.

"She's..." Cato shook his head, "She is in the long term care ward. They are looking after her but after the second Games..."

I nod, and he hurries on, not wanting to linger on the subject, "Sefir is training as well, Ria is in intelligence, she's the one who led the team who hacked the systems to get Lucan and Vittor access to the cells. Mags gave her the information and Ria did the rest. The two Morphling addicts, they are in long term care too. Peeta visits and managed to kick up enough of a fuss to make sure they got paints to occupy them."

It makes me smile, remembering Adria's and Theo's puppy-like adoration of Peeta.

"Johanna is in District 7 with Blight, the two of them are leading the Resistance there. They're having a tough fight of it in that District, but you know Johanna, she's not giving them anything."

I shiver for a moment, remembering that moment in the snow, the words, "Not long enough' and the flash of Gloss' dagger sinking into Blight. Then wild eyes as Johanna leapt out of a tree, taking out Katniss. The memory of that agony, the feeling of terrible failure makes my throat close up and I slowly breathe in.

Cato watches me, face guarded and unhappy.

"Go on," I murmur, forcing myself to relax, "Cecelia and Woof."

"Also back in their home District," Cato brushes his hand against the back of mine tentatively, "District 8 is ours apart from the sporadic airstrike. But even those are lessening. Cecelia is setting the District to rights again. Fells has been around and about, doing his thing, you know, healing." He snorts softly, "He's been training Katniss' sister, and Peeta, when he has the time for learning about fixing things."

"Prim?" I arch an eyebrow in surprise, "I knew she was interested in healing...and he does seem the type to enjoy teaching."

"Sigrin and Rilka are out in the Districts, their Districts, Enrid is here training, Seeder and Chaff are both in District 11, and of course Girl on Fire and Peeta are here..."

I nod, thoughts whirling, as I consider what he's told me.

"And of course Haymitch and Deccia are here." I add quietly, thoughtfully, "Have you seen her?"

"Deccia?" Cato nods, pulling a face, "She isn't responding well to being cooped up in a hospital bed. In fact she's madder than a cat in a bathtub. Haymitch goes in there now and again and the two of them shout at one another. It cheers her up."

"Is something...happening between them?" I ask a trifle hesitant about asking him. It is his sister after all, and while I've had my suspicions for months...

"It's the most functionally dysfunctional relationship I've ever seen but yeah..." Cato shakes his head, "Somehow they work. It's weird."

"What about Peeta...and Katniss?" I ask, again hesitant. This was an edgy topic. Cato has always been firmly in Peeta's camp about the relationship (and everything else for that matter), and his own relationship with Katniss could only be described as strained at best.

He slowly shakes his head, "She spends all her time with Hawthorne. I don't doubt that she does care about Peeta, but..."

"She doesn't love him..." I sigh sadly, "Poor Peeta."

"She doesn't deserve him," Cato growls firmly, folding his arms, "She never did..."

He hesitates then and walks over to brush his fingers softly against my cheek once more.

"I've been talking to Odair."

"You've been talking to Finnick?" I smile slightly, feeling more comfortable with him right at this moment than I have in days, "Should I be concerned?"

His eyes light up slightly and it makes my breath catch. That I can make him so happy just by responding to him, by bantering, by relaxing in his shows how broken we are...and how much both of us want this to be better again.

"I thought you wanted me and dramaqueen Odair to get along," he teases back, a touch hesitantly, "He's still an absolute arse but..."

It makes me laugh and his eyes brighten even more as he echoes the grin, "The idea of you two in cahoots is terrifying."

"We are not in cahoots, there are no cahoots."

"Really, because it sounds awfully like..."

"If you say cahoots..."

I laugh and he beams in response.

So the next day I make my way to the Intelligence sector, followed by the curious eyes of District 13's residents. There I am let in, and seek out the one familiar face I knew I would find here.


She turns at my voice and her blue eyes light up. Instantly she leaves the glowing, complicated consol she had been using and envelopes me in her arms, holding me close.

"Sky," she pulls back just enough to kiss my forehead and cup my cheeks in her hands, "Look at you..." she takes in my now heavily swollen belly and the blue eyes soften, "I heard you were having a little girl? Is that right?"

I nod, always happy to talk about my pregnancy, and the miracle little life inside me, "Yes, a little girl."

"And do you have a name?" Ria grins slightly, "Finnick's been calling her Peanut."

"Finnick..." I groan but roll my eyes fondly; I can imagine him calling her that, "I chose Teesa. Teesa Clove DuGrey."

Ria's face shines for a moment and she enfolds me in her arms, and it's only then that I remember: Ria was one of the Mentors for District 5 during the 64th Hunger Games. She and Sefir mentored Teesa and the shy, stuttering Enbrin.

"That's a wonderful name," Ria says softly, drawing back and glancing toward a door nearby, "And speaking of Teesa actually there is someone I want you to meet..."

The doors slide open as we approach and I gasp as I see a slim female figure standing in front of a huge console, fingers flying across the keys.

For a moment the world shifts, and I see an almost identical young woman standing in front of the plant identification table in the Capitol Training centre.

"Teesa…" I breathe.

But Ria shakes her head and walks forward, "Sky, I would like to introduce you to someone properly. This is Lyrra."

The girl turns and again it's a shock because that is Teesa's face looking back at me, her nose, mouth, eyebrows all of it. Except…slightly different. This face is a little softer, the mouth more relaxed and the amber eyes have more green to them.

She isn't Teesa, but damn…she looks like her.

"Schuyler Cavendish," Lyrra walks forward, and stretches out her hand, her head tilted slightly, "Finally we meet…"

"Lyrra's been a tremendous asset to the Rebellion," Ria explains when I glance at her once more, "She has a knack for intel. And she's good with finding ways around technology."

"It served me well in District 5," Lyrra chuckles softly, "In 5 if a powerplant goes in to meltdown, you want to be able to fix it yes?"

"You also want to be able to set off the alarms whenever you wish too mm?" Ria teases, arching an eyebrow at me.

"That was one time!" Lyrra protests, and turns to me, "One time."

"One time you were caught." Ria corrects, "You were always far too clever to be caught again."

"Teesa and I figured it out together." The amber eyes return to me and I just stare back, completely flummoxed by this familiar stranger, "She did the planning, I made it work."

"I'm sorry…" I say quietly and Ria sighs, putting a hand on my shoulder, "I am…I'm so sorry about your sister…"

"I know." Lyrra closes her eyes, "I know that…now. At the time, watching the Games…I wanted to jump through that television screen and do something…Watching her die…it was the worst moment of my life…"

"I mean to stop it happening to anyone else," I say, meaning the words with my entire being, "If I can help it, there will never be another Hunger Games."

"Then you need to be careful," Lyrra nods to Ria who shuts the door to the room sealing us inside, "I have run every sweep I can of this room, there are bugs in here but their feed is looped or delayed to avoid suspicion. People get edgy if they don't have eyes in places they think they should."

"No one can hear us?" I ask, looking at Ria. I trust her, I have to trust her, I hate to let go of these foolish fears, my pain and resentment over the Quell. It is time to put it aside…for now at least.

"We can speak freely," Ria nods, and moves forward to join us, "But we must be quick about it. Sky, there is more at work here than just a Rebellion."

"Coin," I say and see Lyrra arch an eyebrow in surprise, "I'm right aren't I? She's plotting something."

"Good, you're watching," Ria nods, "The others buy into District 13's information because there is no reason to suspect them. They are our allies, our hosts, our fellow rebels. It's dangerous to question one another. When will it end?"

"And yet," I look between them, "To not question…to blindly trust. Is that not also dangerous."

Ria looks away, and I feel a small vicious stab of guilt. I have to let the Quell go! I can't let it colour everything.

"It is," Lyrra nods approvingly, "Good. You're sensible. It is smart to know when to question, and when to trust." She moves to her computer console and brings up an image, an image of an old pre-panem game called Chess, "Do you know what this is?"

"Chess," I answer, and I see her smile widen in approval, "Strategy game, used to mimic war tactics. Why?"

"In real war, there are more than two sides," Lyrra murmurs, not looking away from the screen, "Everyone has an agenda. But only one can succeed. So people align together to create a force, compatible agendas meshing to help each other succeed. But there must always be a head."

"Snow," Ria murmurs from my other side, and I glance at her, "He is the undisputed leader of the Capitol's regime, although Finnick is planning on dealing some damage to him, as are the others."

"As of this moment, Coin is the head of the Rebels," Lyrra turns to face me, "Because she is using Katniss, using Katniss, Cato, Peeta, all of them as a front, as a mask. The Districts would not follow her, they do not know her, they do not trust her. But they trust…"

"Katniss…" I breathe.

"Yes," Ria nods, "And you."

"Coin believes Katniss Everdeen, The Girl on Fire, The Mockingjay to be her biggest threat to attaining control over the Districts and Capitol. But she needs her to urge them on. Without Katniss, without you, Coin lacks the power to win."

"But…that will not always be the case." I say slowly, the picture being laid out before me coming to light slowly and surely.

"No," Lyrra leans in, "Should Katniss Everdeen die in the final push to the Capitol, or even in some of the final District fights…Coin would use her death as a rallying cry."

"She would be without a rival, and the rebels would win…" Ria murmurs, "It's a good plan."

I brace my hands on the console and breathe in deeply.

It's so much…more. So much worse than I imagined.

"I assume there are measures in place."

"Yes," Ria's voice is soft, but implacable, "Coin has prepared for many eventualities."

"So, what do we do?" I look at them both and Lyrra looks back, steady.

"Coin wishes to use you. But unlike Katniss she doesn't believe you are a threat."

"Because I'm not…"

"Bullshit," Ria scoffs, "You had the Capitol eating out of your hand, the Districts adore you. Katniss is the golden girl but you…you are real. They idolise her, they worship her, but you are real and true and good…and they…they haven't seen something like that in so long…She gives them hope…but you give them that future they want."

"You've been talking to Finnick." I murmur, "And Cato."

"They are right," Lyrra's voice is firm, no nonsense, "District 13 is dead, they don't live here, they exist. You need to show them life, love, passion, vivacity…"

"You are good with people," Ria agrees, "You need to show them…show them everything…"

"I need to make them feel," I look between them and I sigh, "Doesn't seem like it'll do much."

"Sometimes," Ria cups my cheeks, "Sometimes it's not the grand speeches, the striking poses, the glittering splendour that wins the day. Sometimes it's the little kindnesses, the small gestures of love and compassion that make the most impact."

"'My world is better for having had your daughter, your sister in it. And it's darker for not having her now.'" Lyrra says softly, and for a moment I stare at her before the words register and I recognise them.

"I…my speech…"

I stare at her, feeling stunned, floored, almost frightened.

"We came into the world together," Lyrra continues and once again my heart stutters, "We were born barely five minutes apart. Every day for sixteen years we breathed the same air as we slept, shared the same thoughts, worked together, ate together…we barely spent more than an hour or two apart in all those years. But…then she was Reaped and…" Lyrra closed her eyes, "I would have Volunteered."

I try to remember Teesa's Reaping.

"I remember her just walking up to the stage…"

"I wasn't there." Lyrra's smile is sad, "I had some fever…I was delirious, coughing, vomiting, wheezing. Even the Capitol medical assessor admitted I was in no condition to be a Tribute. He thought it would be lucky if I lasted the night."

"But you did…"

"Yes," Lyrra looks at me, "I did, and when the fever broke and I returned to the world…my sister was already in the Capitol. I never even got to say goodbye."

I look at Ria in shock but the woman just sighs sadly, looking down. No…no…surely…

"I thought my heart would stop when the Bloodbath unfolded," Lyrra closes her eyes, "I couldn't see her in that maelstrom of deaths, but then the cameras began broadcasting her…and you." The amber eyes open once more, "I hated you. This….foolish girl. Saving a Career. Patching up a competitor. Crying over a silly girl who lit a fire…I hated that you made it harder for my sister to come home to me. But she kept helping you. And you kept helping her. Until you refused to align with her."

"I…" I begin but she holds up a hand.

"I thought you were scheming. I was waiting every second for you to turn on everyone, to break this foolish pretense of loving everyone. But it never came. So I waited for my sister to turn on you…to end your life as she could have so many, many times. But she never did. Even when it came to the end, you fed her, and she left you alive…and then she died."

"For months I hated you, hated you for living when she died. I hated Cato for being the one you chose. I hated Peeta for gathering those wretched Nightlock berries. I hated Katniss for…well being there. Being alive. For not knowing her name. Calling her Foxface. But I hated you the most. Because you'd let her die…because I'd had to watch her die. And then you came to 5."

"'Teesa was one of the smartest people I've ever had the fortune to meet. She was clever, brave and knew exactly what her strengths were, and how to use them for her best advantage. But she wasn't only a competitor, she was my friend.'" She begins to quote and my words echo back through time, until I can almost see that muddy square, the solemn amber eyes of Lyrra, the tears pricking my eyes, my throat clenching.

"'She made me laugh, she made me cry and she made the Games better just by being in them. She was there for me when I needed her most, and I never wanted to see her hurt.'" Ria continues, her voice soft, but firm.

"'There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about her, and wish I could ask her advice. My world is better for having had your daughter, your sister in it. And it's darker for not having her now.'" Lyrra finishes, and then she smiles slightly, "I couldn't forget those words, your face when you said them, and I suddenly realised I…I didn't hate you anymore. I didn't hate any of you. I couldn't. It was gone…I'd let it go. Because when you said those words…you meant them Sky. They weren't just platitudes."

"You loved her. And you'd lost her as surely as I had." Lyrra moved forward, her face alight with something, "And in that moment you won me. You won my allegiance, my loyalty. I follow you Schuyler Cavendish, Schuyler DuGrey, Lady of the Lake. I don't follow Katniss, or Coin, or Cato or any of those other brutes out there. I follow you."

"As do I." Ria says, and places her hand in mine, "As do we all. District 5 is yours."

"But it's only the beginning." Lyrra licks her lips anxiously, "We have so much to do. You have so much to do..."

I stare at them both, scared, terrified, but also….calm.

It is time to stop running, to stop hiding from what I have to do. For some reason this has come to me, this information, this power, this choice.

I could walk away, refuse to do anything, let things fall as they may.

Or I could step up…and be the Lady of the Lake that Finnick had always known me to be.

"What do I need to do?" I say softly and smile as Ria hugs me tight.

"I want a team," I say to Coin in the next briefing, facing her across the table, and I see her eyebrow arch, "If I'm going to be any help to our cause then I need people behind me that I can trust. We need to go out into the Districts and restore morale."

"Just who do you want?" Coin asks leaning back in her chair, "And I'll let you know if I can spare them."

"I need Finnick, I need Peeta," I say firmly, these two I cannot negotiate on. While they wage a war with their guns and their bombs I have to win hearts and minds. Peeta is the most talented man I know with words, he's charming and sweet and people instantly adore him, and Finnick, well…he has his own charm, his own lure, "I need Sefir and Gloss," Soldiers, loyal to me first, they'll watch my back, "I need Cato."

Coin considers, while Finnick, Peeta and Cato stare at me, "And if I refuse?"

"Then I will simply sit back, and wait to give birth," I keep my gaze locked on hers, "Because clearly…you don't need me."

Something flickers in those slate eyes and then she nods, "Very well, they are yours. Anything else m'lady?" she says the title mockingly and her fellows chuckle softly.

"Yes." I say and again their attention locks on me, "I will be part of the final assault on the Capitol. Whenever it may be. I will be in a hovercraft, waiting ready to be a part of it. I want to be there when this ends."

Coin smirks, victorious, "You have my promise."

"One final thing," I lean over the table, "I want more time outside. I am stifled in here, I cannot breathe. I will stay close, only into the forests a little way. I need to be outside."

"You may go with Soldier Everdeen and Hawthorne when they go hunting. You will leave with them and return with them, but what you do in between is up to you. Is that all?"

"Yes," I nod, bowing my head, "Thank you President."

The meeting continues on around me while Peeta leans in toward me, Cato stepping in on the other side.

"What was all that about?" he asks softly.

I look up and I meet Haymitch's grey eyes across the table. They are assessing, sharp, and when he meets my gaze he simply quirks his lips in a smirk and lifts a hand in an imaginary toast.

He knows.

"That...was the opening gambit." I murmur, remembering Lyrra's chessboard with a wry smile, and then...Snow's cryptic words to me, "True games...never end."

Chapter Text

I have about 2 months until I am due to give birth, and District 13 wastes no time in organising for me and my team to fly out to District 12, and then onwards, restoring morale. They want me back in time for Teesa to be born, and although a part of me longs to give birth in District 4 near the sea like so many of our mothers did before us, I know it is not possible.

District 4 has been obliterated. And with everything little Teesa has endured during her time in the womb, the last thing I want is for something to go wrong and lose her now.

With only week to prepare before leaving the District, I suddenly realise how much I need to set into motion and head to the medical wing of the facility.

"You want me to fucking do what?" Deccia's voice is strident in the hushed atmosphere of the healing sanctum, and I notice a few of the District 13 Doctors shooting her, and me, dark looks, "No way!"

"Deccia," I hiss, sitting on the edge of her bed, "Keep your voice down for god's sake."

"You want me to tag along behind Fire-girl while you and my brother and the fun people go off into the Districts? No way!"

I roll my eyes, "It's not like that! Geeze you're more likely to see more action with Katniss than you will with me. I'm going for 'emotional support' I doubt they're going to let a heavily pregnant mascot near the front lines."

Deccia punches me on the arm, "My loyalty is to Cato and to you remember? Not her."

"Well that ends now." I say firmly, looking her square in the eyes, "There is no Cato's side, and no my side or Katniss' side. There is one side." And too many enemies, I think, "Look Deccia, I need someone I trust looking after her, watching her back, someone who can handle themselves in a fight. Katniss is tough but…"

Blue eyes watch me intently, "You know she has basically the whole of District 13 watching out for her right? Plus Hawthorne, I wouldn't want to get on his bad side." Her lips curl up dryly, "He would have excelled at the Academy you know. Just something to think about."

"I don't know Gale." I reply firmly, "I know you. I know you will watch out for her, because I'm asking you to. Please."

Deccia sighs, "I suppose I have to watch Beanstalk too?"

"Like it's a hardship for you to ogle Haymitch," I retort, and grin when she gapes at me, "Oh please, you've hardly been subtle, either of you."

"Oh my fucking god shut up," she whines, thumping her head back against the pillow, "We are never talking about this again. Anyway the Doctors say I'll be out of here in a day or two, and I have to take it easy for a week or two. That okay?"

"Cashmere is there now watching over her. She'll stay on and help you," I pause, "Along with Enobaria."

"Cashmere? Enobaria?" Deccia starts cackling, "Is this some kind of revenge sweet Sky? Are you punishing Katniss for something?"

I roll my eyes at her, "Shut up, I'm not. They'll just do a good job."

Katniss has to live, which means I need people near her to watch her back, people who are loyal first to me, not to the other girl. Someone who had divided loyalties might follow her orders, orders which might prove to be self sacrificing. Orders that might be made without the information Lyrra will provide. Enobaria and Cashmere for all that they had softened toward Katniss during the Quell preparations, are hardly likely to be swayed by her. They are Careers first and foremost and both have pledged their loyalty to me or to Cato.

Ria had recruited the two women for Katniss, knowing that I was likely going to have enough on my plate, but I will definitely have to stop in to see them before I go.

Of course I can't tell Deccia this, too many eyes and ears, too risky; she's going to have to trust me. And perhaps she sees a little of it on my face because her blue eyes sharpen slightly.

"Sky," She hesitates for a moment, "You know…Cashmere won't be able to protect Catspiss for long right?"

I do know.

It's something that Cato had left out of his Victor report, probably deeming it unimportant. Which was frankly typical of him.

"She's pregnant," I roll my eyes, "Not dying. I competed in a Quell pregnant. She can handle keeping an eye on Katniss here in District 13 for a few weeks."

"She's not the one who's going to be fretting about it all. The father and the other boyos will. They're protective."

"I need her here in 13 anyway," I murmur, "It's a good reason for her staying put."

Deccia looks at me and a small smile touches her mouth.

"Well, well, little Sky taking charge," a wicked edge lights her eyes, "Reckon that might 'light' my brothers 'fire' if you get what I mean."

"So wrong," I point at her, and she snickers, "No messing in our love life."

"Hey, I'm a sea of tranquillity Little Fish," she uses Cato's old nickname for me, "Just…don't punish him too long yeah? That boy loves you. It's sickening."

I know, and she knows I know, it's all there on my face.

"Keep Katniss safe," I say softly, "Haymitch too. And Gale." If Coin can't get to Katniss perhaps she will attack her through her heart, through the people she loves, which means...Gale and...

"Hey Deccia? Have you seen Fells around?"

Fells listens to the quick murmur that I breathe into his ear when I hug him and when I pull away he gives the slightest of nods.

"How are you Sky?" he asks, as though I haven't spoken, and once again I feel grateful to him. He's so steady, so calm, and unflappable and for a brief moment I can smell the grass and trees of the island in the arena, the tang of the metal of the cornucopia, and warm, gentle hands moving over me, fixing me up even as a low voice murmurs soothingly.

"Not great," I admit, realising that he's one of the few I would confess such a thing to, "But I'll be alright."

"I know you will," he smiles, honey amber eyes warm as he tucks a strand of scruffy fair hair behind his ear, moving off to continue about his daily tasks, "Doesn't mean it isn't tough right now."

"I kind of hate everyone a little," I admit, voice soft, and then I wince, "God, does that make me a bad person?"

"Not at all," He leans in and brushes a kiss to my cheek. I've always felt safe with Fells, he's got this kind of...I don't know, strength I think, inner, quiet strength that just washes out of him and makes those close by feel more calm and confident too. Maybe that's his Healer training, "I'd hate everyone a little bit too."

"I can't imagine you hating anyone," I give him a small watery smile and he shakes his head.

"You forget Sky, I am a Victor too. The Quell was not my first Hunger Games either… I can hate."

I have forgotten.

Sometimes it's hard to remember that these men and women that I love so were once children, children like I had been, forced into an Arena. And unlike me, they had had no Cato by their side, no Darrien, no Teesa, no Peeta. They had been the only ones to survive, they were forced to kill their final opponent, to stand and deal a killing blow.

I look up into the amber eyes of the healer before me and for the first time I wonder; how had this gentle man survived the Hunger Games.

He sees the question on my face and smiles, "I did not wish to die." He says simply, and for a moment his eyes are unfocused, seeing something I could not, "It was down to me, and two Careers." He strokes a soft hand over my hair, "They were confident, cocky, and left their food supplies open and I slipped a few things into their water and food. By morning the boy was dead and she…she was wild with grief."

"What District were they from?" I ask quietly, and he chuckles, a soft, sound without any real mirth in it.

"District 4, isn't it ironic? There had been a number of years of Career dominance and they were all feeling quite confident about their chances of success. They all learnt from that year, my year, the Career Districts. Well 1 and 2 anyway. Ask Cato, he would have been drilled in keeping food safe and secure."

I think about the pile of food, the tower of supplies, and the mines around it. Had the idea stemmed from the training they received, because one year a boy from District 9 poisoned the two final Careers? It's strange to think that Fells might have had a hand in Darrien's death 20 years before it ever even happened.

"Afterwards I was so angry," his voice is soft, bringing me back to the story, "I hated everyone, the Capitol, the other Districts, even my own District, all the other children who hadn't been chosen. I hated them for it. But in time that changed, I grew up, went in to the Capitol every year for the Games, met the other Victors, who understood." He smiles softly, "I chose to become a healer to balance the scales, and it brought me peace, and a woman I love."

I blink up at him in surprise, "You were married before the Quell?" I ask, surprised.

He laughs, and shakes his head, "No it was forbidden. She was another Victor, from another District. Impossible…"

I stare at him and he smiles softly.

"We were both a part of the rebellion; we both knew our duties, to work towards freedom, and then one day we could be together."

"Was she in the Quell?" I ask, and the little upcurl of his mouth makes my eyes widen, "She was! Oh my god Fells, why didn't you say anything?"

"We knew the parts we had to play," he chuckles and tugs me in for a hug, "Besides if we'd told you, you would have been even more distraught, thinking we'd died before getting to live our lives together."

He's right.

I would have been.

I punch his arm and he lets out a bark of laughter, but all the while my mind is whirling through the women of the Quell. I know it isn't me; it isn't Katniss, or Johanna or Cecelia, Seeder, Wiress, Sigrin or Rilka. Which leaves Enobaria, Ria, Adria and Cashmere. Adria is morphling addled so she is out, and Ria has a husband I think, which then leaves Enobaria…and Cashmere.

And I look up into Fells eyes and I know exactly which woman it is.


His mouth curls upwards and I know he knows that I know.

"It's been hard to stay apart, to pretend indifference, but we couldn't risk the Capitol realising their icy princess of District 1 was attached to a mere healer from 9. They would have used it against her."

"But now?" I say and he winks, "You are together now? You're the father of her child?"

"We got married our first week here in District 13," he says softly, "We talked about waiting, but…"

"No," I say, my heart full of warmth suddenly, tears springing to my eyes. Damn hormones, "You'd had to wait too long. I'm…so glad you…"

"I know…" he hugs me close and I just sag into his arms, "Have you spoken to Finnick yet?"

"We've spoken but…" I pull a face, "I was angry."

"He's been waiting for you to be rescued," Fells smiles against my hair, "Sefir told him it was dangerous to wait, that Annie might realise what a potato head he is."

I snort softly, "Sounds like Sefir," I break the hug, "So Annie's going to make him an honest man? I'm shocked."

"Finnick will never be honest," Fells grins but then his expression softens, "Except perhaps in this case. I don't believe he has eyes for any woman other than Annie. Not really."

"No," I say softly, "Just her."

Fells smiles softly and touches my chin, "Forgive me but there is another man who has only eyes for one lady."

I blink at him and Fells rolls his amber eyes.

"Cato," I realise, and instantly blush, "It's not the same."

"Oh I think it is," Fells shakes his head at me, "You didn't see him while you were missing. He was beside himself. That man loves you."

"I know," I whisper, and the tears well up again, "Oh my god," I wipe at them furiously and then Fells tugs me back into his arms and I can hide my face in his shoulder, "Why is it so hard?" I ask him, voice shaking slightly.

"True love is always worth it," he says softly, "Trust me."

And I think about him and Cashmere, and how I would have felt if I'd had to pretend indifference to Cato.

If I'd had to wait so many years to be with the person I love.

And I believe him.

The wedding for Finnick Odair and Annie Cresta turns out to be one of my first battlefields.

Coin wants it in the way of District 13, which is to say impersonal, cold and brief. She wants a simple, private ceremony, and have it done. I have other ideas, and thankfully the Capitol recruits are on my side.

They want it to be an extravaganza of epic proportions, and while I'm not entirely on board with it being quite so large as all that, I do agree that it needs to be celebrated.

And broadcast.

I am also determined that the residents of District 13 be invited and encouraged to celebrate with the residents of Districts 12 and 4, one of the first steps along the path of wooing the dull District.

It's a tense Command meeting, with the Capitol residents leading the charge about the celebration, backed up by Finnick's acquiescence about having his day of days broadcast to Panem.

"Weddings can be powerful motivators," he murmured, and his wicked green eyes meet mine. He winks and my mouth curls up in response. I know he's thinking of Cato and my wedding, of how it was broadcast to a waiting Panem, a hungry Capitol, and how the Rebellion used that emotional punch to punctuate the Quell.

For the first time, I don't feel a stir of anger about it.

I think of Lyrra's chessboard, of the white and red pieces being moved about the board, strategy unfolding. I have come to realise that I am one of those pieces, played in a game against my will. It's time to become a powerful piece, and also begin to play my own chess game, with my own pieces.

The Quell, and my 'family's' actions during it ensured my survival, and the beginning of this rebellion, our Rebellion. It hurt, and it was okay to be hurt, but it was done now.

Let it go.

Let it be.

Some of this must show on my face because Finnick's face lights up slightly, something shadowed disappearing from behind those amazing eyes. He'd been afraid he'd not be forgiven, I realise, heart clenching. He'd been afraid that he'd not only lost Mags, who had been like a mother to him, but also the girl he saw as his sister. He'd been afraid that he'd lost his chosen family…like he'd lost his blood family.

Never, I think fiercely, he will always have me.

He turns back to the table and smiles charmingly at them all, "It will be a huge slap in the face to Snow and his Capitol, as will the interview I shall give closer to the final battle."

Coin's lip curls as she looks at him, and my hackles rise.

She doesn't see what I see, what I know. She sees only the pretty exterior, the light and frothy banter. She underestimates him.

Good, I think.

You do that.

"It's a waste of resources," she begins and that's when Haymitch makes his move.

"Actually it's a wonderful use of resources," he drawls laconically, "Haven't you been saying you want a way to boost morale. A wedding is perfect. Love blooming despite the Capitol's best efforts, Districts united in celebration. It's beautiful, and you can't fabricate that kind of crap."

He sneers that at the Capitol crew who bristle at him like enraged porcupines.

Katniss sighs, and I glance at her.

She's eyeing Haymitch with a droll look, and idly I wonder if she wants to beat him with a shoe as often as I do. Our eyes meet for a brief moment and I hide a grin.

The answer is totally yes.

But Katniss' sigh has also drawn Coin's attention.

"And what say you Soldier Everdeen? Do you think we should be wasting time and resources on such fripperies?" Her cold slate eyes meet mine, "And you Lady Du'Grey?" her voice mocks, and I feel Cato bristle beside me, "We brought you in to deal with the morale problem. Why do we need this wedding as well? And besides, if we're holding a wedding for morale's sake shouldn't it be our Mockingjay and young mister Mellark getting married?"

Silence falls, and I see Katniss has paled, as has Peeta.

"No." I say firmly and all eyes snap to me. Slowly I stand, resting my hands on the table, "Katniss and Peeta were exploited by the Capitol. And while they care for one another deeply, everyone knows that that romance has reached its natural conclusion." I rest my hip gently against Peeta's shoulder, where he sits on the other side of me to Cato, comforting, since I know he's only recently come to accept that Katniss has blazed past him, "Hurting them gains us nothing. And fabricating things makes us no better than the Capitol. Finnick and Annie are in love, they were kept apart and exploited by the Capitol. They are Victors, and beloved by the Districts. This is a perfect opportunity." And I smile slightly, eyes meeting Coin's, "As is the opportunity to show Districts and 13 united in celebration."

She glares, but she is outnumbered and outmanouvered.

Everyone votes in favour of the idea, and gazes expectantly at the President who is forced to concede.

At once plans for the wedding begin and I sink back in my seat, aware of cold eyes watching me.

I just made a very powerful enemy.

It's the day of my departure from District 13 when I receive an urgent summons from Lyrra.

I hurry there, followed by my team, who had all gathered in Cato's and my room to travel to the hangers as a group. It's good timing, good timing to introduce them to another player in our game, an important ally, but I can't help worrying about what Lyrra has to tell us.

My fears only grow when we enter her intelligence booth and she locks it behind us.

"What is it?" I ask, anxiety almost choking me, as she moves to stand before us. Peeta's staring and it takes me a moment to realise why, "Oh, wait, Peeta, Finnick, Gloss, Cato? This is Lyrra, Teesa's twin from District 5." I eye Sefir, "I assume you two already know each other," I get a big shit-eating grin in response, "That's what I thought."

"Charmed," Lyrra murmurs, shooting Peeta a sharp look.

I wince as I remember Peeta's nickname for Teesa had been Foxface.


"What's the problem?" Cato growls from beside me, blue eyes sharp as he looks at Lyrra. He too is no doubt remembering Teesa, although I am not sure what his feelings on the subject are. Peeta just looks awkward, embarrassed and is blushing.

"There are two problems," Lyrra sighs, running a hand through her hair, and ending her weird staring contest with Peeta, "Very different from each other."

"What's the first one?" Finnick asks, poking his head over my shoulder, "Do either of them involve pie?"

"Pie?" I ask, twisting slightly to look at him, "Really?"

"Well it'd be a nice change of pace," Finnick shrugs, "Hell I'd take counselling you on yours and Pancake's sex life again over some of the problems we have at the moment."

"There will be no counselling." Cato snarls.

"Because there is no sex life?" Sefir chimes in and I cover my face in my hand.

How had my life become this? I wonder despairingly as I hear Finnick snicker and Gloss punch Sefir in the shoulder.

"I'm sure their sex life is fine," Peeta states loyally, adding hastily when Finnick and Sefir both start wiggling their eyebrows suggestively, "Not that I know anything about it!"

"None of us want to know about it I'm sure," Lyrra butts in, rolling her eyes, "Honestly, I thought Ria was exaggerating when she told me about the Quell Victors."

"Nope," Peeta says dryly, "This is about right."

"Wonderful," Lyrra drawls, "New rule. This is my house and you play nice when you're in here. You boys can yank each other's tails when you leave, okay?"

"No fun," Sefir pouts, and winces when Gloss punches him again, in exactly the same place, "Fuck you're a sodding menace."

"Boys!" Lyrra barks and the two balk, sheepishly, "Better. Now the first problem."

"Yes what is it Lyrra?" I ask quietly, sinking into a nearby seat and rolling my eyes when Finnick perches on the chair arm, neatly getting in there before Cato, who looks annoyed.

Lyrra gives Finnick a warning look.

"It's District 2."

At once she has everyone's attention.

"What about my District?" Cato's voice is sharp, "What's wrong with it?"

"The Capitol has gotten reinforcements in, and they've strengthened defences on the control centre inside the mountain."

I'm lost, but I know instantly it's bad.

"Shit!" Sefir swears as Cato snarls, slamming his hand against the wall, "Fucking fuck balls,"

"How did they get through!" Gloss barks, "We were supposed to have the entire area on lockdown!"

"I don't know," Lyrra sighs, rubbing her face, "I'm still sifting through the data."

"How did you find out about this?" Peeta asks quietly and my eyes shoot to him, "You shouldn't have access to that kind of information."

"How the hell do you know that?" Finnick asks, sounding almost impressed, "Sunshine I'm surprised at you."

"I listen," Peeta says defensively, shrugging, "I asked Ria about Intelligence and she said that the District people they have doing Intel are restricted to low level data."

I look back at Lyrra, "But most of them aren't exceptional hackers…are they Lyrra?"

The young woman just smiles, "I have access to files I perhaps should not have. However you can be sure I will use my powers for good."

"How can we be sure of that," Cato growls, prickly to a fault, "You could be feeding us misinformation. How do we know you're trustworthy?"

"You don't," I say quietly, and once again they all look at me, "But I do. She's one of us."

"Good enough for me," Finnick murmurs and the others all agree until Cato, the last, reluctantly nods, "So, 2 has Capitol reinforcements. What does that mean?"

"President Coin has put out orders for our own reinforcements…including the Mockingjay, to travel there." Lyrra says, and instantly I tense. Finnick feels it and glances down at me sharply, "Apparently the troops need the morale boost."

"That's likely true," I say quietly, "But 2 is a warzone."

"It is," she agrees evenly, eyes meeting mine, "Convenient isn't it."

"Who's going with her?" Cato asks, and I can see his mind whirring, "Who have they assigned?"

"At the moment? Hawthorne, and District 13 soldiers."

My stomach lurches and I look at Peeta, who is watching me. They all are.

And they can see the fear on my face.

"She's in danger," Gloss says softly, "Isn't she? Not just from the Capitol."

"No," I say, and Sefir swears softly, "Not just the Capitol."

"Gale won't be enough if…" Peeta begins, frowning.

"No," Lyrra agrees, "He won't be."

Cato looks lost in thought and then his eyes move to Peeta's. The two of them stare at one another for a long moment and then they both look at me.

And I know.

"Okay," I say softly, even though my heart aches with fear, terror that I will lose them again. This is bigger than my fear though, bigger than just me, "Okay."

"Enobaria too," Cato murmurs, and I relax slightly, "And I'm sure Haymitch and Deccia will tag along as well."

"Wait," Finnick catches on and his eyes widen, "You're going to…"

"Cato is District 2's golden son," I say, throat closing as I look at my husband, realising that he really is going, "And Peeta…"

"Someone has to keep everyone honest," Peeta says softly, "Too many lives have been lost already."

I nod, and I notice Lyrra eyeing Peeta with something like interest, or respect.

"Do you want me to…" Gloss begins but Cato shakes his head immediately.

"I want you with Sky."

They all nod and I roll my eyes, trying not to let on that I am actually touched.

"What's the second problem?" Peeta asks, and silence falls like a leaden balloon.

Crap…I'd forgotten there was a second problem.

"I've been thinking," Lyrra says, and then hesitates, chewing on her lip as she tucks an auburn lock behind her ear, "About President Snow. About the Quell."

Cato and Gloss relax, clearly thinking that Lyrra's thoughts are not likely to be as big of an issue as District 2, but Peeta, Finnick, Sefir and I keep our eyes on her.

"What about it?" Sefir asks, voice rough.

"It doesn't make sense," Lyrra's voice is soft, "After the 64th games, he threatened Katniss, he coerced her to continue the charade of being a foolish girl in love. He saved Sky, someone who was as much a beacon as Katniss, someone who played a very different path. If he wanted to squash the resistance where it was he should have…"

"Let us die?" Cato drawls, but his stance is tense.

"No," Lyrra shook her head, "No…he should have let things be after the Games were done. By forcing Katniss to continue the charade with him," and she nods at Peeta who looks pained, "He continued with her cover, her reputation. He…in a way…promoted her."

"But he wanted…" Peeta began to object but Finnick shushes him.

"If he'd wanted the fervour around Katniss to die out," Lyrra looks at me, and I can feel my stomach clenching, and Teesa kick in my stomach, "He would have let her and Peeta break up, let her charade be exposed. If he'd wanted to discredit her he would have discredited her. If he'd wanted the District's love for Sky and for Cato to die out…he would have kept them apart, let everyone forget them."

"Instead," Finnick's voice is soft, hushed, "Instead he forces them all together, to promote them, to encourage everyone to remember…while not looking like he's making them remember."

"Why?" Cato sounds angry, and I see him frowning. He hates this kind of espionage, these layers of falsehood, "Why would he do that then?"

"And then he announced the Quell," Peeta's voice trembles, "Past Victors…and there was only one female Victor from 12. Katniss had to be there."

"Back in the spotlight," Sefir breathes, "Broadcast to the world in high definition tragedy."

"He must have known how people would react," Finnick stares at Lyrra, who just watches us putting it together, face tight, "He knows how people work…he's too clever not to."

"He knew how we would react," Peeta slumps against the wall.

"He…wanted this to happen," Cato growls.

Silence falls until Gloss says softly.


But I know, and as my eyes meet Lyrra's, and then Peeta's, Finnick's and Cato's I know they know too.

"He wanted this rebellion to happen." I say quietly, and Sefir thunks his head back against the wall.

"Snow knew, if it all unfolded, that the Districts wouldn't be able to stand alone," Lyrra's voice is sad.

Sickness washes through me and I close my eyes.

"He wanted to draw out District 13," I say, into the heavy silence, "He wanted to not only crush the Districts…but the last remaining stronghold outside his control."

I look up at the screen, where Lyrra had shown me the chess board.

"We've been playing his game, all along."